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India appears open to new US ventures

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It seems sheer chance to Alan Lukas that he is now working to establish a joint venture in India - a venture he thinks can provide considerable growth for his small business in Saco, Maine.

Opportunity knocked recently in the shape of an Indian engineer living in Chicago. The engineer had noticed an advertisement for a utility meter made by Intelligent Controls Inc., where Mr. Lukas is president. The engineer believed the meter could solve a problem he knew of at Calcutta Electric, a utility in India. Had it not been for this connection, Lukas says, ''we would not have thought of India.''

Not thinking of India - that's one reason more American businesses have not invested in this South Asian democracy, says S. P. Bagla, minister of economics at the Indian Embassy in Washington. ''India is far too distant for (Americans). It's not on their horizon,'' Mr. Bagla explained in an interview here.

But recently, India has zoomed much closer than the horizon. ''The assassination (of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi) has brought India into consciousness,'' said the slight man, who spoke before a sizable group of high-tech business professionals gathered here last week to learn about joint ventures in India.

India's need for Western technology has not changed with the death of its leader. It is still searching to lease, buy, or do joint ventures in essential technology that will help build its electronics, communications, power, machine tools, oil and natural gas, chemical, and fertilizer industries. But some of the people at this conference wondered if the business climate there would change. ''There's no question. As a businessman, you think about riots ...,'' Mr. Lukas said.

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