Sonia decides to go for Olympic opening (Lead)

August 3rd, 2008 - 7:15 pm ICT by IANS  

A file-photo of Sonia Gandhi
By Pranay Sharma
New Delhi, Aug 3(IANS) Bringing to an end days of speculation in the media and anxiety for her Chinese hosts, Congress president Sonia Gandhi has decided to go for the Aug 8 opening of the Beijing Olympic Games. Gandhi will leave here on Aug 7 with daughter Priyanka, her husband Robert Vadra and their two children, for the Chinese capital when most of the dignitaries and celebrities from others parts of the world are also expected to arrive there.

Her son, Rahul Gandhi, parliamentarian and general secretary of the Congress party, might also go. His visa has been readied, but it is not clear whether he will go with the rest of the family or take a separate flight.

Sonia Gandhi’s office informed the Chinese embassy in New Delhi Saturday night about her decision to go for the opening gala next Friday.

However, for the past few days her possible presence for the event created a protocol puzzle that even the Chinese were finding hard to resolve.

Sports Minister M.S.Gill is likely to head the Indian government delegation to Beijing. But in the political pecking order he is much below Sonia Gandhi. However, though she is the Congress president and chairperson of the UPA, she does not hold any government position.

The problem was over where to seat her. Sonia Gandhi, and the rest of her family, as guests of the Chinese government, will be seated with the others in an enclosure which is not the VVIP area.

Chinese President Hu Jintao, his US counterpart George W. Bush and other heads of governments will be in that VVIP enclosure. By virtue of being the head of the Indian government’s delegation, Gill will earn a seat in that privileged enclosure.

“If Sonia Gandhi is seated in the other enclosure, she will not get the kind of focus and media attention that she deserves. But if she is seated along with Gill, it might raise embarrassing questions in India,” informed sources told IANS.

In the end, it was Sonia Gandhi who resolved the tangle for the Chinese authorities by making it clear that she did not have any problem in sitting in the enclosure away from the government delegations.

The other problem that China faced was in finding a suitable accommodation for Sonia Gandhi and her delegation. The best hotels and clubs in Beijing have been booked by various countries months in advance for their respective leaders and delegations for the Games.

The Chinese government had booked over a dozen rooms for Sonia Gandhi and her delegation that might include her family members, other senior members of the Indian delegation and her personal staff, in one of the better hotels in the capital city.

But if Sonia Gandhi travels to Beijing, she will also have a large posse of security personnel with her. Finding accommodation for members of her security team of the elite Special Protection Group (SPG) has only added to the worries of the Chinese government.

“Now that her trip is confirmed, the Chinese authorities will make sure there are enough rooms for everybody,” diplomatic sources said.

Sonia Gandhi’s decision to go for the inaugural ceremony is extremely significant and important in Sino-Indian bilateral ties. The Chinese were all along keen that she should attend this important event. But political uncertainties after the Left parties withdrew support to the UPA government kept Gandhi’s final decision pending.

Sonia Gandhi visited China in October last year along with Rahul Gandhi. Her visit was followed by that of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in January this year.

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