India turned down proposal for British PM to address parliament

July 28th, 2010 - 5:31 pm ICT by IANS  

David Cameron By Devirupa Mitra
New Delhi, July 28 (IANS) A proposal for British Prime Minister David Cameron to address a joint session of Indian parliament during his visit here was shot down due to protocol and scheduling problems, official sources said.

Cameron had made it clear that an India visit was one of his top priorities soon after he was elected prime minister in May 2010. “It was clear during the initial discussions about the visit that the British wanted a big event and they suggested that David Cameron could address the joint session of parliament,” said a senior government official.

The proposal did the proper rounds in South Block and the file also went to the office of Lok Sabha Speaker Meira Kumar.

But the idea did not finally find favour mainly because of protocol issues - usually such a signal honour is accorded to a head of state - and the fact it was becoming difficult to squeeze it in a debate-packed session. “It was entirely a political decision (to turn it down),” the official told IANS, speaking strictly on condition of anonymity.

“As per protocol, the Queen should be ideally addressing the Indian parliament,” he said.

In recent years, US President Bill Clinton and Russian President Vladimir Putin as well as Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe have addressed the joint sessions of Indian parliament. The exception was made in case of Japan to reciprocate the honour accorded to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when he was invited to speak before the Japanese diet (parliament).

Incidentally, Indian President Pratibha Patil had made a speech at Westminster, addressing members of the British parliament, in October 2009 during an official trip to Britain.

Cameron arrived Bangalore Tuesday night for a two-day India visit with the largest ever business delegation.

According to officials, British officials were hoping to make Cameron’s visit one-up on the 2008 trip of his Labour predecessor, Gordon Brown.

During that trip, Brown had got an honorary degree from Delhi University and a televised event at Indian Institute of Technology in Delhi. The private dinner at the prime minister’s residence, personally supervised by his wife Gursharan Kaur, was advertised as the embodiment of a new relationship.

With the Queen reflecting the new government’s plan for “special relationship” in her address to the joint session of British parliament, there had obviously been felt a need to give a higher profile to the Cameron visit.

“There had been an idea that perhaps he (Cameron) could speak to a select group of MPs outside the parliament, but it never was considered seriously,” said diplomatic sources.

The visit also coincided with the monsoon session of parliament, which the government anticipated would be a stormy one.

“The Indian government also knew that their hands would be quite full managing the parliament during this session. In fact, later dates were looked at for the visit, but the UK PM had some scheduled events in the coming days,” said a senior official.

There were also delicate diplomatic nuances associated with Cameron starting his trip from New Delhi - Cameron started his visit from Bangalore Wednesday - so that he was not in the same city as Myanmar military ruler, General Than Shwe, who is also on an India visit.

Britain has been a vocal critic of the Myanmarese regime, while India has in recent years been courting Yangon’s dictatorship for strategic reasons, mainly for energy (Myanmar is gas rich) and help in fighting northeastern rebels who take sanctuary across the border.

The major platform for Cameron during this visit will therefore be the Infosys campus in Bangalore, where he delivered a policy speech Wednesday afternoon.

(Devirupa Mitra can be contacted at devirupa.m@ians.in)

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