On Board President`s Special Aircraft: As she embarked on her last tour abroad as President, Pratibha Patil on Sunday dismissed criticism over a large number of foreign visits undertaken by her, insisting that they were not on her own volition but at the request of the government to promote India`s relations.
"Government wanted me to visit two-three more countries, but it was not possible due to paucity of time," she told reporters accompanying her in her state visits to Seychelles and South Africa as part of "our efforts to further consolidate our ties with Africa...(which) occupies an important place in India`s foreign policy".
Patil`s term as President is ending on July 25.
The President`s refrain was that in an interdependent world, no country can remain in its own cocoon and it was necessary for countries to increase engagement with others.
Noting that India was elected as non-Permanent member of the UN Security Council with an "overwhelming majority", she said that for this it was "very necessary" to make new friends and promote ties with the old ones.
Asked as to how would she describe her 22 foreign visits so far, she remarked that they have been "very successful" in promoting India`s growing image abroad and strengthen the country`s ties with those nations which she visited.
Elaborating on the different kind of ties in a fast changing world, she said the relations between countries were no longer only political in nature, but have different aspects like economic, educational and cultural.
She said that in such a scenario, high-level visits help in strengthening and furthering ties.
President`s remarks were significant as they have come in
the wake of a controversy following reports that some 200 crore Rs were spent by the government for her visits abroad and that she was one of the most widely travelled occupant of the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
Patil said that her visit to Seychelles, the strategically located island republic in the Indian Ocean, was important as "we are sharing waters with it".
"Seychelles is in proximity of the sea lanes through which global trade takes place and so they are strategically important especially at a time when the menace of piracy and terrorism (is being witnessed). India is cooperating with Seychelles in combating the menace," she said.
While some agreements are expected to be signed with Seychelles, President did not elaborate on them when asked by reporters.
In a statement to the media on board her special aircraft, she said: "India-Seychelles relations have been characterised by close friendship, understanding and cooperation".
A visit at the Presidential level from India to Seychelles is taking place after 22 years, she said "Seychelles today is one of our close friends".
After her visit to Seychelles, the President will leave for South Africa on May one on the second leg of her tour. Patil said that South Africa is a country with which "we have deep-rooted historical ties and share a strategic and multi-faceted relationship".
"We view South Africa as one of our closest strategic partners in the developing world and in the African continent. We work together in various international for a including the UN Security Council, G 20, IBSA, BRICS, IOR-ARC and others", she said in the statement.