Sonia’s Olympian folly
by Sandhya Jain on 19 Aug 2008 0 Comment

As gushing media acolytes crowed that Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her entire family had secured the coveted invitation to the Beijing Olympics in defiance of diplomatic protocol wherein the President or Prime Minister represents the nation, it was overlooked that an aspiring regional superpower was publicly upstaged at the century’s greatest spectacle by a naturalized citizen! A friend commented that it should be no surprise that Ms. Gandhi failed to comprehend that her action humiliated her own government – she is UPA chairperson – she simply lacks the value system for such an understanding.


Mercifully, the karmic retribution has been almost instantaneous. As all governments, more especially the Chinese, stick to protocol at such major international events, Ms. Gandhi, her children, son-in-law, and grandchildren, could naturally not be accommodated in the same stands as other national leaders at the Games, and presumably could not make it to the same tables at official banquets either. Even selective television footage and media reportage could not cover up the fact that the only ‘famous personalities’ the Gandhis managed to meet in Beijing were the children of Pakistan’s former Prime Minister Benazir Bhutto!


Minister of State for External Affairs, Anand Sharma, obsequiously promoted this as continuing the friendship between late Mr. Rajiv Gandhi and Ms. Benazir Bhutto, actually just a couple of official meetings that amounted to nothing, as the late Benazir did the most to vitiate the atmosphere in Kashmir. Certainly this cannot be projected as politically rewarding, as Bilawal has just begun college and the younger girls are probably in school! Obviously, in the heightened atmosphere of the Olympics – which coincided with Georgia’s foolish action against South Ossetia followed by the resounding Russian riposte – the Ministry of External Affairs could not drum up more notable encounters for Ms. Gandhi.


One does not know when she returned to New Delhi, because it must necessarily have been a quiet homecoming. It does seem evident, however, that the UPA chairperson was not around to share and savour India’s greatest moment at the Olympics – when shooter Abhinav Bindra won the gold against all odds. Hence the boy wonder was made to call on her on his return, when he naturally visited President Pratibha Patil and Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. Had Ms. Gandhi refrained from her almost compulsive obsession with front-page photo-ops in the Bindra case, she would not have underlined her Beijing fiasco. But she never went for India – she went in haste to build her own profile as an international leader (whatever that means), and returned prematurely, missing the golden moment!


If Ms. Gandhi wanted to show the world that she had no compunction in upstaging the Indian President and Prime Minister, she succeeded admirably. But having thus humiliated the Symbols of the nation, she could not secure for herself the seats at the high table that were necessarily reserved for them, and had to settle for second-fiddle status. Had she and her acolytes only stopped to recall the protocol issues that arose when the then unmarried Ms. Carla Bruni thought to visit India with French President Nicolas Sarkozy, she would have realized that even the well-connected can get away with just so much.


Ms. Gandhi would have behaved differently if she had been a natural-born citizen (not an Italian-born naturalized one). This is therefore an appropriate occasion to revisit the issue of her foreign origin and soaring political ambitions. Moreover, in a recent interview, National Conference MP Omar Abdullah declared that the passport he holds is no one else’s business, thereby hinting that he might be holding more than one passport, which is illegal. India should further debate if children born of foreign parents should hold political office, especially given the stubborn silence of all concerned in the face of sustained queries on the issue of dual citizenship or double passports. Surely opposition to foreigners contesting elections in India cannot be confined to Nepali-born aspirants only!


The issue of secret dual citizenship is relevant in every country, as demonstrated in the flight of former Peruvian President Albert Fujimori to his native Japan, when faced with charges of corruption and allegations of having sanctioned death squad killings during his presidency. A larger and more relevant issue is that of true allegiance – one can formally renounce a country’s citizenship, but serve its interests through marriage in another country. In the current turmoil in Georgia, it seems most pertinent that Mr. Mikheil Saakashvili, who came to power on the crest of the US-funded Rose Revolution, is married to an American. 


This may also be the time to undo the laxity in the matter of allowing diplomats (or government servants) to marry foreign citizens. Hitherto this permission has been granted capriciously to those who could swing it, and denied to others without assigning reasons (actually there can be no reason for giving permission; it must be routinely denied and officers with foreign wives denied top posts). Diplomats getting involved with foreigners should be helped find alternate employment as they could easily compromise national interest by falling into a trap laid by a foreign intelligence agency. This ban should be extended to all those who aspire to or hold elected office, from Panchayat level upwards.


To return to Beijing, the presence of Russian Prime Minister Vladimir Putin and US President George Bush was enough to eclipse the absence of British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper, and Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk. The French President signalled the traditional Norman pragmatism; other leaders seeking Beijing’s friendship included Israel’s President Shimon Peres, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Japanese Prime Minister Fukuda Yasuo, President of the Republic of Korea Lee Myung bak, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai and Brazilian President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva.


Simply put, Beijing did not need Ms. Gandhi to overcome any so-called embarrassment over Tibet, instigated by the same forces that ‘advised’ Mikheil Saakashvili to undertake his foolish adventure in South Ossetia. On that glittering stage – aptly labelled China’s coming out party – her presence was neither needed nor sought. She remained in the shadows, having demonstrated her ability as a woman willing and able to damage her own side. Strangely, the dominant voices in the Bharatiya Janata Party resolutely refuse to condemn this deadly one-upmanship.  

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