Kerala Chief Minister Oommen Chandy had a dream start to his visit to the United Arab Emirates (UAE) following a rare meeting with the Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the Vice President, Prime Minister, and the ruler of Dubai, and a pledge by the host country’s top leadership to back the ambitious projects that the state has undertaken in partnership with the UAE.

“Shaikh Mohammed appreciated Kerala’s contribution to the UAE’s development and offered full support to our joint projects,” Mr. Chandy told The Hindu soon after the meeting. The Prime Minister promised to visit Kerala after the completion in about 18 months of the first phase of the flagship SmartCity project - the Information Technology (IT) Special Economic Zone in Kochi. Shaikh Hamdan bin Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, Crown Prince of Dubai and Chairman of the Dubai Executive Council also attended the meeting.

The Kerala government is investing considerable political capital in the SmartCity project. Apart from generating around 90,000 quality jobs, the undertaking, if successful, will also play its due role in branding Kerala as a dynamic investor-friendly unit of India’s larger growth story.

A meeting held earlier during the day of the SmartCity board yielded impressive results. The board has green-lighted the development of 1.5 million square feet of land during the first phase of the project. Out of this work on 40,000 square feet is expected to commence by July 1, and is likely to be completed within a tight timeline of 18 months.

The design for the Signature Building, which will become the project’s icon, is likely to be ready within eight months. When fully complete, the SmartCity is expected to cover a total built up area of around 8.1 million square feet.

Later in the evening, Mr. Chandy will visit Sharjah for his first overseas “mass contact” meeting. The Indian Association, Sharjah has already opened its doors to those who want to personally submit written petitions or send their grievances either by email or in the form of text messages to the visiting Chief Minister. Mr. K.C. Joseph, the minister of Non-Resident Keralites (NRKs) will be by Mr. Chandy’s side during the two hour town-hall style interaction - a time-line that is expected to be overshot by several hours as thousands have already begun to throng the venue.

On Friday, Mr. Chandy will be in Abu Dhabi, to inaugurate the three-day global meet of the Overseas Indian Cultural Congress (OICC) - an organisation affiliated with the Kerala unit of the Congress party. Nearly 1,000 overseas delegates are expected to participate in this event.

Mr. Vayalar Ravi, the Minister of Overseas Indian Affairs and K.C. Venugopal, the minister of state for civil aviation are also expected to join this conference.