Who is responsible for president’s embarrassment in Latin America?

April 27th, 2008 - 11:11 am ICT by admin  

A file-photo of Pratibha Patil
By Liz Mathew
New Delhi, April 27 (IANS) Who is to blame for the embarrassments President Pratibha Patil faced during her recent visit to Latin American countries? The president, who was on her maiden foreign visit, had to face an almost empty senate in Brazil during her address and had to call off her address to the Mexican parliament at the last minute.

The Indian officials involved have been since then in a blame game.

Embarassed Brazilian diplomats tried to downplay the issue. “Our practice is to invite the leaders of main political parties, who were all present on this very solemn occasion,” claimed Brazilian Ambassador to India Marco Antonio Brandao.

However, the 20-odd media members accompanying the Indian president were not briefed about the “practice” either by the Brazilian side or by the Indian officials.

The envoy also could not explain why there were no instructions - on the lines of a whip - from the party leaders to their members to be present in the house. He was also silent when asked if it would be same situation if the US President George W Bush or his French counterpart Nicolas Sarkozy were to address the senate.

Later, while talking to IANS, Brandao himself admitted that they should consider organizing such addresses - by a head of state only to the leaders of main parties in a smaller chamber instead of holding it in the capacious senate chamber with rows of empty seats.

After addressing the senate - where only 15 of the 81 members were present - Patil went to the lower house, the house of deputies, where only three members out of 513 were present initially before the president came into the chamber. However, the media was ushered out and not allowed to cover her speech subsequently, but officials later claimed that more members had trooped into the house.

Indian officials blamed the media for “making mountain out of a molehill” and for “craving for sensationalism.” But they secretly admitted that it was “too embarrassing to witness the Indian president’s address to a nearly empty house.”

They also said the absence of 66 senators during the Indian president’s address was certainly unusual and did not speak well of the interest they had in India.

Officials also admitted that the Brazilian side should have ensured that the address would be attended by a considerable number of members. In the US, it is usual practice for Congress to be filled up with aides and non-lawmkers to give an impression of a full house and thus avoid embarrassment to the guest.

Last year the Japanese embassy in New Delhi wanted the government to ensure that then prime minister Shinzo Abe’s address to the joint session of the Indian parliament was well attended when he addressed it.

Even as officials in the Indian embassy, accompanying officials of the external affairs ministry and the president’s office blame each other, it was very clear that proper lack of coordination between the three led to these diplomatic embarrassments for the country’s first citizen.

In Mexico, Indian officials at the last minute informed the media that the president’s address to the country’s parliament was cancelled due to a blockade by the Left MPs over an energy bill.

The lawmakers there had been protesting against the energy bill and had been disturbing the proceedings for quite a few days. However, Indian officials did not seem to have taken the issue seriously even after what had happened in Brazil.

The embassy in Mexico seemed to have relied too much on the Mexican parliamentary officials’ assurance that they would talk to the protesting MPs to allow the Indian president to address them.

Thus India’s first woman president’s maiden foreign visit - she also visited Chile where mercifully there was no diplomatic faux pas - lost its grandeur, thanks to the ego clashes between officials of both Rashtrapati Bhavan and the ministry of external affairs, according to junior officials who were in the delegation.

(Liz Mathew can be contacted at liz.mathew@ians.in)

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