New Delhi: China appears to have chosen to invite Congress party president Sonia Gandhi and not Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to the opening ceremonies of the Olympic Games on 8 August in Beijing, unlike other prominent heads of state and government such as US President George W. Bush and French President Nicolas Sarkozy who have been invited to attend.
Talking terms: A 26 October 2007 photograph of Congress president Sonia Gandhi with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao in Beijing.
People familiar with the Indian government’s thinking who spoke on the condition of anonymity said that while Gandhi was unlikely to go because of the political crisis facing the Central government, in the absence of a formal invitation for the Prime Minister, it will be sports minister M.S. Gill who would represent India at the ceremonies.
The ministry of external affairs declined to comment when asked whether not receiving an invitation for Singh constitutes a diplomatic snub.
Sanjaya Baru, the media adviser to Singh, said he “was not aware” that the Prime Minister had not received an invitation.
Apart from Bush and Sarkozy, Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda, Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd, Finnish Prime Minister Matti Vanhanen and Mauritiun President Anerood Jugnauth are already among those who have promised to attend the Olympic inaugural, which China hopes will constitute its “bringing out party” as a world power to reckon with.
British Prime Minister Gordon Brown will attend the closing ceremony.
Among those who have refused to attend are the German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper and UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon.
It is unclear why the Chinese have choosen to not invite Singh. One diplomat, who didn’t want to be identified, claimed that “China would have invited the Indian Prime Minister if they had known that he wanted to come.”
A spokesperson for the Chinese embassy in New Delhi, Li Minggang, said the Beijing Olympic Committee and the International Olympic Association, as per procedure, had asked the Olympic committee of every country to “choose its own chief guest”.
“You should ask Suresh Kalmadi (the chairman of the Indian Olympic Committee and a Congress leader) this question, of who is being invited from India,” Li said. Kalmadi couldn’t be immediately reached for comment.
As for the invitation to Gandhi, news reports note that Chinese vice-president Xi Jinping gave a letter of invitation to visiting external affairs minister Pranab Mukherjee during his visit to Beijing at the end of June.
Under normal circumstances, the monsoon session of Parliament would have been under way by 8 August, the opening day for the Games, but Parliament is set to meet later this month to see if the current Indian government can prove its narrow majority.
Meanwhile, some officials in the Prime Minister’s Office note tried to downplay the impact of Singh not being at the Games when so many other heads of government and state will hobnob with senior Chinese leadership.
They point out that Singh visited Beijing in January, met Chinese President Hu Jintao during the G-8 summit in Japan earlier this month and is also likely to attend the East Asia Summit that is also happening in Beijing in late-October.
“The PM has already met the Chinese president twice this year, and may go again for the East Asia Summit,” one official said. “Going to Beijing for a third time might become too much.”
That is, if China does extend a late invitation.
Krishnamurthy Ramasubbu contributed to this story.