Thursday, April 9, 2015

Representation at National Day Functions

The recent controversy on MOS for External Affairs General V.K. Singh’s participation in the Pakistani National Day celebrations (Pakistan Day on March 23) seems unnecessary and uncalled for. The handling of the issue, particularly with reference to the tweets of the MOS, is also not only undiplomatic but also does not conform to the norms of maintaining international relations.  It also appears that the media has played the unsavory controversy out of proportion which has further damaged the already strained relations between the two neighboring countries.
Uzbek National Day Function at theie Embassy in Delhi
Those who know the protocol and accepted international norms in this regard would acknowledge the fact that National Days of countries throughout the world are celebrated and observed as a solemn and sober occasion. Greetings are exchanged between the leaderships and it is generally reiterated to further strengthen bilateral relations, except with those with whom diplomatic relations do not exist. India being an honourable member of the comity of nations, these practices are followed as a routine diplomatic intercourse. Indian diplomatic and consular missions also observe our National Days on January 26 as Republic Day and August 15 as Independence Day all over the globe. The host Governments, as a normal diplomatic courtesy, not only exchange greetings but also participate in the functions and receptions held in this regard.

The norms for these representations change in accordance with the

Indian National Day Function in Prague, Czech Republic
prevailing trends and situations. Being a practitioner of diplomacy, my knowledge and experience in this regard, may be of interest. In the early years of our Independence in 1947, exchange of greetings by the top political leadership and Government representations at the national day functions, were given a lot of importance. The warmth of greeting messages indicated the depth and importance of bilateral relations. Senior Ministers were deputed to represent the Government at the functions. Sometimes the representations were raised to the PM level on specific occasions. It was so, on the basis of reciprocity, an important ingredient in the conduct of diplomatic intercourse, with functions hosted by our Ambassadors and High Commissioners abroad. Until the end of 1980s, in addition to the Chief of Protocol (COP) or his Deputy, Secretary/Joint Secretary of the concerned Division in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), one of the Ministers was also deputed with the approval of PMO and Cabinet Secretary to attend such functions. Owing to some functional and security reasons, the practice underwent change in the 90s. It was decided that in all national day functions organized by diplomatic missions in Delhi, Lt. Governor will be the Guest of Honour to represent Government of India, in addition to the official level representation from the MEA. Later again, the practice of political level representation at the level of MOS was introduced and it continues. Incidentally, during my diplomatic career, I myself represented the concerned Divisions/Sections of the MEA in such functions in Delhi and also received host representations at functions hosted by the Indian Embassies abroad as and when occasion arose. These are routine activities to carry forward the diplomatic exchanges with countries of the world.

With this background, I think MOS General V.K. Singh’s participation in the National Day function of Pakistan on March 23 (Pakistan Day) was a routine gesture. PM Narendra Modi’s message of greetings to his Pakistani counterpart on the occasion was also a routine diplomatic activity. Indian media, particularly the mushrooming TV channels, have the tendency to over play and sensationalize the news which is not correct.  

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