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India's All-out Efforts to Woo Obama

Cities across India are vying for Obama's attention months ahead of a planned state visit


BANGALORE, India — Will it be chicken tikka in New Delhi, idli-dosa in Bangalore or pav-bhaji in Mumbai for the American president and the first lady?

In November this year President Barack Obama will make his maiden visit to the country that he describes as a rising power and a 21st century center of influence.

The official announcement has barely been made and already a half dozen Indian cities from Bangalore and Chennai in the South, Mumbai in the West, and Patna in between, are vying to get on Obama's itinerary.

The visit, heavy with diplomatic and strategic overtones, is several months away — assuming he doesn't cancel, as he has previously done with trips to Asia. But so serious is the "Woo-bama"' campaign to bring Obama to various cities that it already involves India's foreign minister, several chief ministers and assorted other politicians.

A U.S. president's visit has immense cachet in India where investment-hungry cities and local government look for ways to lure foreign investors. A presidential visit ups the brand quotient of the city, besides helping local politicians get ahead in their game.

The full-fledged effort to sway the U.S. president got underway in Washington during India's external affairs minister S.M. Krishna's official visit there in early June. Krishna said he invited the president to visit Bangalore, India's technology hub.

Earlier this week BS Yeddyurappa, chief minister of the state Karnataka of which Bangalore is the capital, met Krishna asking him to prevail upon Obama to include Bangalore in his travel schedule.

The city, which gave the lexicon the term "Bangalored" — meaning to lose one's job to outsourcing — has been controversial right from the start of Obama's term. Just after his election, at the height of the financial recession, Obama exhorted American corporations to "say No to Bangalore, say Yes to Buffalo." American school kids had better watch out for competition from Bangalore and Beijing, he said.

Krishna, the minister, told the president that a Bangalore visit is essential so that he could understand how American corporations benefit from being based in the city.

Not to be left behind, neighboring Chennai has launched its own all-out effort to woo Obama. The city plans to list the major American corporations that are thriving in the city.

India's financial capital Mumbai is also pitching for an Obama stopover. The state government there is hoping that the president will stay overnight at the Taj Mahal Hotel, which was at the eye of the gruesome terrorist attack in November 2008. Mumbai hopes that this will be a confidence-building presidential gesture.

Meanwhile in New Delhi, the upscale Bukhara restaurant had created rich, kebab meat-filled "Presidential Platter" and a "Hillary Platter" for the former president and his wife on separate visits.

Restaurants in New Delhi, Bukhara included, are now vying to host the U.S. president and the first lady and concoct culinary creations named after Obama and Michelle.

Whether the Obamas, known for their funky and down-to-earth choices in restaurants, clothing and everything else, will dine at a swanky location or try one of New Delhi's trendier eating establishments is the stuff of diplomatic speculation.