Indian Foreign Minister S.M. Krishna's visit last week to the United Nations was supposed to provide New Delhi with an opportunity to shine on the world stage, to show that India is a serious emerging power that deserves to sit with other world powers. It didn’t quite turn out that way.
Krishna, in his first appearance before the U.N. Security Council since his country began a two-year stint in January as a temporary member of the U.N. security body, read the wrong speech. For three minutes, Krishna read from the official statement of the foreign minister of Portugal, Luis Amado, noting with a gracious smile his "satisfaction regarding the happy coincidence of having two members of the Portuguese speaking countries" addressing the 15-nation council." (See the video: Krishna begans at 1:08:10)
gaffe has fueled calls from India's opposition politicians to have Krishna step
down, saying his mistake has brought "shame" to India at a time when it is
trying to prove to the world that it is a serious player on the world stage.
The mistake occurred after Amado, who spoke before Krishna, decided to ditch his speech in favor of extemporaneous remarks on the theme of the council debate: the connection between social development and security. Copies of his official speech, however, were circulated to the council's members, including one copy that landed on top of Krishna's speech.
In all fairness, it is often tough to tell the difference between the standard speeches delivered before the U.N. Security Council. The Portuguese statement sounded off familiar themes that could have been read by virtually any delegation. For instance, it noted that it "is impossible to implement effective poverty reduction strategies" in a place wracked by political chaos and violence. It underscored the importance of meeting the Millennium Development Goals -- a series of internationally accepted health and poverty benchmarks aimed at eliminating poverty -- in order to spur economic development in the Third World.
It was not until Krishna highlighted the importance of coordination between the United Nations and the European Union that the Indian delegation grew suspicious. India's U.N. ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri, approached Krishna, slid the Portuguese text off his pile of paper, and instructed him to read the Indian statement buried beneath it. "OK," a puzzled Krishna said before asking: "I have to start all over again?" Without so much as a pause, or a recognition of the gaffe, Krishna started again, beginning with a reference to Mahatma Gandhi's famous line "poverty is the worst form of violence." You'd think -- that if he had taken the time to glance at his speech before reading it -- he would have noticed the omission.
As for Krishna, he suggested the slip-up could have happened to anyone. "There was nothing wrong in it," he told the Press Trust of India. "There were so many papers spread in front of me, so by mistake the wrong speech was taken out."
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*Update, 11:37 a.m., Feb. 14, 2011: This quote was corrected along with corrections of misspelled names and typographical errors.
Longtime Washington Post correspondent Colum Lynch reports on all things United Nations for Turtle Bay.