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Did Pranab Mukherjee's vital Germany trip get overshadowed by a charity fundraiser?

Sadiq Naqvi | Updated on: 10 February 2017, 1:46 IST

This month, President Pranab Mukherjee's trip to Germany, Luxembourg, and Cyprus, was, curiously, deferred indefinitely. Although, the Ministry of External Affairs did not formally announce his trip, but President Mukherjee was scheduled to travel to the three countries between 14 September and 20 September.

All the arrangements had been made, including putting together the delegation, which was to accompany the president. Interestingly, the most important part of any such trip, the bilateral meeting with the head of state of the host country, in this case Germany, could not be scheduled well in advance, which led to the decision to defer the trip say sources.

There were reports that German Chancellor Angela Merkel would not be available in Berlin for she would be busy with the UN General Assembly (UNGA) and that is why the trip was deferred.

While the Ministry of External Affairs, tried to add trips to other countries, President Mukherjee, reportedly, decided to not go on a trip without any "meaningful agenda".

While Venu Rajamony, the press secretary to President Mukherjee, refused to comment saying that the MEA could clarify, the MEA accepted that the trip was deferred due to scheduling issues.

"While we never officially announced the trip, it was in the plans and was deferred due to scheduling issues," a source in the MEA pointed out.

It's all in the plans

Such high-level trips are planned well in advance and require the local Indian embassy to make all the arrangements including fixing meetings with the leadership of the host nation.

The trip could have easily been planned keeping in mind the UNGA and Chancellor Merkel's availability for the important meeting with President Mukherjee. However, that did not happen.

Catch has learnt from reliable sources that the Head of Mission at the Indian embassy in Berlin, is busy with other things, than taking care of the president's all important trip. And that it was due to his lackadaisical attitude that the trip had to be deferred.

So what exactly is Ambassador Gurjit Singh busy with?

All lit up

The Indian Embassy in Berlin is "collaborating" with the Wadah Foundation and the Indonesian Embassy in Berlin for the SpotLightBall, which "debuts as the social highlight of Berlin's Light Week with an evening of cross-cultural exchange and global activism. Hosted in the historic Orangerie Schloss Charlottenburg, the evening honours and supports individuals bringing light into the lives of those in need."

The event is scheduled for 8 October and sources, say that Ambassador Singh happens to be the major driving force behind it.

So much so that sources claim that even the invites to the event have the Ashoka emblem on it, something which is used to denote the sanction of the Government of India.

There is an interesting angle to this collaborative event. Ambassador Singh's wife Neeru Singh happens to be the Chairperson of Wadah Foundation, which is the main organiser of this invite-only fundraiser, where the organisers have demanded that "each guest attending the SpotLightBall Berlin makes a financial contribution of 400 dollars or 350 euros to help support the work of the Wadah Foundation."

The Indian Embassy in Berlin is yet to respond to queries on the extent of embassy's participation in this fundraiser despite multiple emails.

The MEA, too, did not respond to Catch's email on the event and if the embassy has MEA's go-ahead for it. Sources in the MEA, however, pointed out that the Ministry had reached out to the embassy in Berlin on the issue and have been told that Indian embassy is not directly involved with the event, neither it is taking any financial burden for the event.

"Our embassies support such initiatives," an MEA source says.

The Ministry or the embassy in Berlin, interestingly, did not respond to a Catch query asking for details of similar fundraisers by NGOs or private charities which have had the support of the Indian embassy. And that too, when there is a clear conflict of interest.

Edited by Jhinuk Sen

First published: 19 September 2016, 7:13 IST