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"We Tibetans are looking for a legitimate and meaningful autonomy, an arrangement that would enable Tibetans to live within the framework of the People’s Republic of China."

An Olympian mistake

August 20, 2008

Sandhya Jain
The Pioneer (India)
August 19, 2008

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 naturalised citizen! A friend
commented that Ms Gandhi had failed to comprehend that her action
humiliated her own Government -- she is the UPA chairperson.

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 and her family could
naturally not be accommodated in the same stands as other national
leaders at the Games. Even selective television footage and media
reportage could not cover up the fact that the only 'famous
personalities' she 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 Rajiv Gandhi and
Benazir Bhutto, actually just a couple of official meetings that
amounted to nothing, as the late Benazir Bhutto did the most to
vitiate the atmosphere in Jammu & Kashmir. Certainly this cannot be
projected as politically rewarding, as Mr Bilawal Bhutto 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 he 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
front-page photo-ops in the Bindra case, she would not have
underlined her Beijing fiasco. She went in haste 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 naturalised 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 Mikhail
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 alternative 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 W 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' Mr 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. Strangely, the dominant voices in the Bharatiya
Janata Party resolutely refuse to condemn this deadly one-upmanship.
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