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World Politics

Indian foreign minister gives wrong speech to the UN

With India seeking to extend its global influence and secure a permanent place at the UN Security Council, it was perhaps only natural that the country's foreign minister would try and ensure his address to international delegates was as memorable as possible.

But when SM Krishna announced, "on a personal note", his satisfaction at seeing representatives from two Portuguese-speaking nations in his audience, an Indian official sitting alongside him realised something was wrong. Quickly, he stopped the minister and told him he should start again, only this time reading from his own speech, and not that of his Portuguese counterpart.

Quite how a red-faced Mr Krishna ended up reading from the speech of the Portuguese foreign minister, Luis Amado, rather than his own remains unclear. Officials have dismissed the embarrassment and said copies of Mr Amado's speech had been handed out to delegates. As it was, when Mr Amado spoke, directly before the Indian minister, he did not stick to his prepared speech and extemporised. They said that the introduction of Mr Amado's speech was very general and could have been delivered by any delegate.

But reports suggest that when Mr Krishna began speaking, many became immediately aware something was wrong as several lines appeared out of place. As it was, he spoke for a full three minutes – even talking about the actions of the European Union – before he was stopped by the Indian official who pointed out his mistake.

The 78-year-old minister has sought to brush off the faux pas. "Unfortunately, it happened," he told reporters. "There was nothing wrong in it. There were so many papers spread in front of me so by mistake the wrong speech was taken out."

Opponents have seized on the affair and demanded that Mr Krishna be sacked for what they describe as bringing shame to the nation. They say last Friday's speech was particularly important because it was the minister's first address to the world body since India took up a rotating position on the Security Council. At the very least, the incident showed that Mr Krishna had not bothered to properly read his speech in advance, or else he would have become aware of the error.

"Was it negligence or a mistake? Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should explain to the nation why and how it happened at a world forum and he should also explain what are the steps being taken in this regard," Venkaiah Naidu, a senior member of the main opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party, told reporters. He claimed Mr Krishna had lost his "moral right" to represent the country, adding: "It was a glaring example of how this government is functioning and how ministers are working."

Reports suggest this is not the first time Mr Krishna had made a mess of delivering diplomatic addresses. Last year in Islamabad, during a meeting with his Pakistan counterpart Shah Mehmood Qureshi, he read out material from a background note that had been prepared to help him with the meeting. At a meeting with EU delegates in Delhi, he similarly read from personal instructions prepared for him and not intended to be shared publicly.

With a population of 1.2 billion people and growing regional and economic influence, India has steadily been campaigning for a reform of the Security Council that would result in a permanent seat for Delhi.

Last November its demands received the backing of US President Barack Obama, who, during a speech in the Indian parliament, declared to rapturous applause: "The just and sustainable international order that America seeks includes a United Nations that is efficient, effective, credible and legitimate. That is why I can say today, in the years ahead, I look forward to a reformed UN Security Council that includes India as a permanent member."