Indian minister plays musical speeches at UN council

February 16, 2011

Those who spend much of their working week listening to speeches at the United Nations — U.N. correspondents, for example — might be forgiven for thinking there’s not much difference between most of them.

UN-ASSEMBLY/But it’s seldom you get as dramatic an illustration of this as happened on Feb. 11 when India’s Foreign Minister began inadvertently reading out to the Security Council a speech written for another country’s delegate without anyone, including himself, initially realizing anything was amiss.

The gaffe by minister S.M. Krishna occurred during a debate on the worthy but less than sensational topic of “the interdependence between security and development.” This month’s council president, Brazil, had organized the debate and invited as many foreign ministers as possible to take part.

The speech problem seems to have started when the speaker before Krishna, Portuguese Foreign Minister Luis Amado, decided to make off-the-cuff remarks to the council instead of his prepared text, which was instead circulated in written form to other participants. It was this that Krishna picked up and started to read when his turn came, thinking it was his own.

So general was the opening section that it could as well have come from India as Portugal, although it did seem a little odd when Krishna welcomed the fact that there are currently two Portuguese-speaking nations — Portugal and Brazil — on the Security Council. But hey, the Indian state of Goa was for centuries a Portuguese colony and Portuguese is still spoken there by some people.

It was when Krishna began to hail cooperation between the United Nations and the European Union that it really did appear that there had been some mistake. India’s U.N. ambassador, Hardeep Singh Puri, suddenly appeared at Krishna’s elbow, handed him another speech and whispered in his ear.

“Start all over again?” muttered Krishna, in remarks picked up by U.N. microphones. “Start again, yes sir,” Puri replied. Without a word of explanation to the council, Krishna plowed on, this time reading from the right text: “Mr President, Mahatma Gandhi, the father of our nation, said …”

The council debate took place at the very moment of the fall of President Hosni Mubarak in Egypt, and Krishna’s faux pas attracted little immediate attention — except from Indian journalists. There were sarcastic headlines like “Bom Dia, Sr. Krishna” — Portuguese for “Good day, Mr. Krishna.”

A leader of the opposition BJP party has called on Krishna to resign, saying he had no “moral right” to continue in his post after bringing “shame” on his country. But so far he has shown no sign of going. “There were so many papers spread out in front of me so by mistake the wrong speech was taken out,” he was quoted as saying.

Photo credit: Reuters/Chip East (India’s foreign minister, S.M. Krishna, speaks at U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 29, 2009)

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This is so stupid! Stoopid! Stoopid! Stoopid!

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