Bouquets and brickbats await Sonia in NYC

Bouquets and brickbats await Sonia in NYC

Published in www.rediff.com   on Sept 11, 2007  http://www.rediff.com/news/2007/sep/11sonia.htm

Suman Guha Mozumder in New York | September 11, 2007 10:31 IST

Both bouquets and brickbats seem to be awaiting Congress President Sonia Gandhi [Images] when she arrives in New York to address the United Nations General Assembly on October 2, the birthday of Mahatma Gandhi [Images] dedicated by the world body as the International Day of Non-Violence.

‘, ‘In her first visit to New York in six years, Sonia will deliver the inaugural address to the UNGA that had unanimously passed the resolution in June this year urging member States, all UN organisations, regional and non-governmental organisations and individuals to commemorate the International Day in an appropriate manner and to disseminate the message of non-violence through education and public awareness.

The resolution tabled by India requested the Secretary-General to recommend ways and means by which the United Nations system and the Secretariat could, within existing resources, assist member States in organizing activities to commemorate the day.

In what was described by Minister of State for External Affairs Anand Sharma as a reflection of Gandhi”s continued relevance and the respect he commands universally, a total of 142 countries co-sponsored the resolution piloted by India.

“The fact that the resolution was co-sponsored by 142 countries underscores the esteem in which Gandhi is held worldwide even six decades after his assassination,” Sharma noted.

Besides addressing the UNGA, Sonia is also expected to meet with Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon as well as other dignitaries at the UN headquarters on October 2.

The only public program of Sonia in New York is a red carpet reception being organised by the Indian National Overseas Congress at the Marriott Marquis ballroom October 1.

“We are expecting over 2,000 people, including Indian Americans from 60-odd community organizations in the United States, all of whom had been informed about the event,” Dr Surinder Malhotra, president of INOC said during a press conference to announce the event.

Because of strict security, Malhotra said the names of prospective guests will be vetted by the Federal Bureau of Investigation agents before formal invitations are sent to them.

Evidently, one of the reasons for the strict security is a planned protest by a group that calls itself Forum for Gandhi Heritage. It has announced a protest and relay fast outside the UN building decrying Sonia”s selection by the Indian government as the speaker for the inaugural event.

”The recent UN declaration of Mahatma Gandhi birthday as International Non-Violence day at India”s request is commendable. However, unlike true Gandhians who lived their lives based on Gandhiji”s ideals representing this day at UN, politicians like Sonia Gandhi are using his name for political mileage and international legitimacy,” the group said in a statement.

It claimed that Gandhi poses ”an alarming threat” to democracy in India since she entered the country by way of marriage to former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi. They also alleged that she is dividing the country for dynastic rule and is out on a ”crusade” to wipe out Hinduism.

Ironically, the website of Forum for Gandhi Heritage contains more information on Sonia Gandhi and her alleged misdeeds than the teachings of Mahatma Gandhi.

INOC officials said they respect dissenting opinions on whether Sonia is the best choice to address the UNGA or not.

“Everyone has a right to speak here because it is a free country, but one should not be allowed to hit below the belt,” Malhotra said.

In response to a question, he said people who are planning protests against Sonia are nothing but fanatics who cannot live together with different religious or ethnic groups.

“It is more important to look into the intent of an individual (rather than religion or nationalism). Madeline Albright and Colin Powell were born in foreign countries, but were two of the best US secretaries of state. Can we doubt their patriotism? Just because they were not born here does not make them less American,” Malhotra said.

“All these religious bigots and zealots care for nothing else but religion and country of origin, and we in the Indian National Congress are totally against that because our party stands of secularism. Congress is nothing but pan Indian,” he added.

George Abraham, another INOC functionary said that some critics of Sonia, who are issuing statements condemning her address to the UN, are masquerading as followers of Gandhi or human rights activists, but their records speak for themselves.