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Sonia, not Hu, shamed the PM

Sonia, not Hu, shamed the PM

Author: S Gurumurthy
Publication: The New Indian Express
Date: August 13 2008
URL: http://www.newindpress.com/NewsItems.asp?ID=IE720080813021222&Page=7&Title=TheOped&Topic=0

[Note from the Hindu Vivek Kendra: Soniaji claimed to have listened to her inner voice and declined the opportunity to become the prime minister of India. However, it seems the inner voice lost its vocal chords in this instance.]

The Prime Minister, Dr Manmohan Singh, must have witnessed with his family the grand opening ceremony of the Beijing Olympics on the TV screen in his Race Course Road residence in Delhi, like all ordinary Indians did. Even as he was sitting before the TV, over 80 other heads of government from all over the world - from the gigantic USA to tiny Singapore - were enjoying the great show in the VVIP enclosure at the National Stadium in Beijing as invitees of the Olympics host, China.

Why was Manmohan Singh in Delhi and not Beijing on that day? Was he fatigued by the confidence test in Parliament? Not at all. On the contrary, he would have loved to go to Beijing as the victor in Parliament. But he just did not get the Olympic invite, which all other heads of state got. And more. He was not even aware he had been left out and, instead who got it. Sonia Gandhi had been invited. Why was he left out? Who kept him out? Who reduced him to witnessing the Olympics on the TV screen and humiliated him? Read on.

Those were the tumultuous days preceding the vote of confidence on the UPA government on July 22, 2008. Neither the media nor the reader or the viewer was interested in any other subject. The news of Amar Singh contracting out MPs from all parties to vote for the UPA government dominated the print and electronic media. Yet here and there some reports about how "China had ignored Manmohan Singh" and "invited Sonia Gandhi instead" had leaked out. But the mainline media had no space for it.

The media that had put out the news had actually blamed China for humiliating Manmohan Singh - and India. As if to confirm that, Sanjaya Baru, press adviser to the Prime Minister, told the media that "he was not aware" that the PM had not received the customary Olympics invite! The External Affairs Ministry kept silent when asked whether not inviting the PM was a diplomatic snub for India. All this on July 15.

The next day, the spokesperson of the Chinese embassy in Delhi, Li Minggang, let the cat out of the bag: "The Chinese Olympic Committee (COC) and the International Olympic Committee (IOC), as per procedure, had asked the Olympic committee of every country to choose its own chief guest." The Chinese Foreign Ministry spokesman, Liu Jianchao, also told the media: "According to the IOC stipulation and Olympic custom, heads of governments and states shall be invited by the Olympic committees of their own countries and attend the Olympics as accredited distinguished guests; we respect the decision of the Olympic committee."

That means the COC and IOC had asked the Indian Olympic Association (IOA) to name the chief guest from India. And it was the IOA that scored out the Prime Minister's name and put in Sonia Gandhi's. Irritated that his country was being blamed for what India has done, Li Minggang told the media: "You should ask Suresh Kalmadi this question, of who is being invited from India." Is any more evidence needed to nail the culprit? A congressman, Kalmadi was head of the IOA.

According to Chinese officials, it was he who had told China that Sonia Gandhi should be invited, not the Prime Minister. When the existence of the government itself was in doubt then, whether China had ignored Manmohan Singh or invited Sonia was perhaps irrelevant to the media. Moreover, citing government sources, a section of the media had reported that Sonia Gandhi would not attend the event as the PM had not been invited and she had asked Sports Minister M S Gill to go to Beijing instead. This, as the final act later showed, was obviously a damage control model and a red herring. The plot thickens now.

Manmohan Singh won the confidence vote on July 22, that is, a week after the media had reported that Sonia Gandhi would not go to Beijing. On July 25, the Chinese Government officially, but quietly, sent the invite to her, obviously as Kalmadi wanted. But since the media was told that not she, but M S Gill would go, no one suspected anything.With just three days to go for the Olympic opening, India Abroad News Service (IANS) reported that on August 2 Sonia and her family had finally decided to attend the Olympics. But why did she take one full week to make her decision public, after Suresh Kalmadi had stolen the Olympic invite meant for the Prime Minister and given it to her as early as July 25? Obviously, much had to be done in that week. She had to settle a critical issue with China. And that was where she would be seated in the opening ceremony. The protocol was clear. She could not sit with the 80 heads of state in the VVIP enclosure, as she was not the official head of India and would therefore only be seated in a Chinese guests' enclosure far away from the VVIP enclosure.

With few other options, she had to settle for the less reputable enclosure which would not - and eventually did not - give her the media focus and attention she would have liked. The next issue was in whose luxury aircraft - in Mukesh Ambani's Airbus or Lakshmi Mittal's Boeing - to travel? The pressure from both, reportedly, was so high that finally she decided not to travel by either. Yet not a word in the mainline media about the fact that Suresh Kalmadi had struck out the PM's name from the Olympic Invite and filled her name on it, thus confining Manmohan Singh to Race Course Road on that day; that her first stand that she would not go to Beijing was just a red-herring; that she and her family had already planned to go; that she was not seated in the VVIP enclosure. The media had totally suppressed the motives of the petty conspirators.

Here is a typical report sans such crucial facts: "Clad in pink Banarasi sari with golden border, Congress president Sonia Gandhi sprang to her feet and waved enthusiastically when the Indian contingent of sportspersons marched past the National Stadium." But for the IANS, which incidentally works from outside India, many of the facts would not have come to light.

Thus the attempt to substitute Sonia Gandhi for the Prime Minister and seat her along with 80 other heads of state in the VVIP enclosure in Beijing Olympics failed.

Result: A lucky M S Gill was representing the Prime Minister and India at the Olympics as per protocol and it was he, not Sonia, who was rubbing shoulders with George Bush and others in the VVIP enclosure!

So, finally, Kalmadi ended up substituting one Singh for another, but not Sonia for Singh! Obviously the pettiness of 10 Janpath has humiliated the PM. Also India.

QED: It was not Hu Jintao who shamed Manmohan Singh or India, but, Sonia Gandhi herself.

- comment@gurumurthy.net

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