Sonia Gandhi’s Russia visit

The four-day visit of the UPA Chairperson and Congress Party President, Ms Sonia Gandhi, to Russia at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin. Accusations were made about how she breached the protocol and how an executive plane of a big business house was used to fly her to Moscow. Objections were raised about Minister, Dr. Manmohan Singh, seeing her off at the airport and the External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, accompanying her to Russia.

Sonia is in Russia as a personal guest of President Vladimir Putin.

This is Sonia's fourth visit to Russia and the first after becoming UPA chairperson. Earlier, she had visited Soviet Russia with her husband the late Rajiv Gandhi, the then prime minister.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi and Russian President Vladimir Putin seen onboard the latter's boat as they arrive at the Constantine palace in Peterhof, former residence of the Russian tzars, on the Gulf of Finland outside St.Petersburg, 15 June 2005.

Sonia was welcomed to the Russian city of Saint Petersburg by the Russian President.

Sonia Gandhi’s four-day visit, organized by the Dialogue of Civilizations, a non-governmental group, which began on June 13, included talks with President Putin in his hometown of St. Petersburg, and addressing a number of functions as well as visit to the twin Russian cities of Vladimir and Suzdal where her father was detained for several years during World War II. She interacted with Prime Minister Mikhail Fradkov and addressed a function at the elite “Centre of National Glory of Russia”.

During her talks with President Putin at his seaside summer residence on June 15, Sonia Gandhi described India and Russia as partners in combating terrorism. Putin said the fight against the scourge should be transparent without any double standard. The talks continued over lunch hosted by President Putin. Sonia Gandhi said India and Russia were partners in combating terrorism and added that any fight against the menace should be transparent and no double standard should be applied. Paying tributes to the victims of the Belsan School carnage in Russia in which over 300 people were killed last year, Sonia Gandhi referred to the latest Pulwama terror attack in Jammu and Kashmir and said children and women were mostly the victims of terrorism. Putin expressed satisfaction at the ongoing cooperation between India and Russia in all spheres of human activity, including defence. The External Affairs Minister, Natwar Singh, and India’s Ambassador to Moscow, Kanwal Sibal, were present at the talks.

At another function, Sonia Gandhi said, the spectre of weapons of mass destruction continued to loom large and global disarmament remained a mirage. Addressing a function organized by the World Public Forum in Moscow on June 14, she said, there are forces of divisiveness and hatred in the world, forces that do not want people and nations to live in peace and harmony with one another. Observing that both India and Russia faced the scourge of extremism, separatism and terrorism”, Mrs. Gandhi said the two countries were in agreement that terrorism must be fought collectively, resolutely and consistently “without any double standard”.

Back at home, a report in an international newspaper that Sonia Gandhi was using an executive jet owned by Reliance Industries for her Russian visit, triggered a political controversy on June 15 with the opposition saying it was highly irregular. BJP spokesman Prakash Javdekar raised the issue at a Press briefing and said this was highly irregular and it was not known if she paid for the plane. Even as the Congress clarified that it had, indeed paid Reliance for the jet, BJP added two more “irregularities” about the visit while seeking to put the government on the backfoot. Javdekar said protocol has been breached on two counts – one Prime Minister Manmohan Singh going to the airport to see off Sonia, and two, External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh accompanying the Congress President on her unofficial visit. According to protocol, the Prime Minister is expected to see off only the President, Vice-President and visiting dignitaries.

Both the Congress and the Prime Minister’s office rejected the BJP charges. “The PM is not a prisoner of protocol; he is free to go to see off the leader of his party” said, the PM’s media advisor. The Congress Party held that Natwar Singh’s presence in Sonia Gandhi’s entourage was legitimate as she had gone there at the invitation of President Vladimir Putin. Congress party spokesman, Anand Sharma further argued that Sonia Gandhi was not only the Congress President but also the elected leader of the present ruling combine and the Russian President too would have analyzed the protocol issue before extending a formal invitation to her. He said since both the Russian President and Prime Minister discussed issues of national importance and bilateral relations with her, it was only proper that the External Affairs Minister was present.

On the use of Reliance aircraft for Mrs. Gandhi, Sharma said, hiring private planes and helicopters for the Party President’s visit was not unusual and in this case the party had paid an advance of Rs. 12 lakh to the Reliance company. Arguing that the BJP raked up the matter to divert people’s attention from L.K. Advani’s controversial remarks on Jinnah, he asked, what kind of planes former Prime Minister Vajpayee and Advani use for their travel. He recalled that even Jaswant Singh used a chartered plane during his Israel visit.

(source: news agencies)
NGO Watch
For several decades one has been witness to the unprecedented growth in the power and influence of non-governmental organizations (NGOs)। It is indeed true that many NGOs remain true to grassroots through protest and sacrifice. It is also true that it is now turned into a business of sort.

NGOs are widely quoted in the media and relied upon. Several of them work beyond their mandates and have assumed quasi-governmental roles. One needs to find out and investigate what are their agendas? Who runs these groups? Who funds them? And to whom are they accountable?

Most of them seem to be unregulated and their account for expenditures is not kept in public domain. They do not disclose sources of funding. They do not disclose the fact that their officers work on several issues as a consequnce of several funding sources but get compensation from only one source of funding.

What need to be probed is the extent to which NGOs influence national and international organizations. Wheter there is is conflict of interest with their sources of funding ?

In U S, NGO watch has come up as a collaborative project of the American enterprise institute for public policy research (AEI) and the federalist society for law and public policy studies. In an effort to bring clarity and accountability to the burgeoning world of NGOs, AEI and the federalist society have launched The site compiles data about NGO’s, includes analysis of relevant issues, treaties, and international organizations where NGOs are active. There is also cross-referenced information about corporations and NGOs, mission statements, and news about causes and campaigns as well as links to NGOs and to articles and authors of interest.

Media needs to make an effort to pay attention to the NGOs, compile factual data. Media needs to make an effort to pay attention to the NGOs, compile factual data. India also needs to come up with its version of NGOwatch.


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