At 7.10 p.m. on the last day of the India-Africa Forum Summit, a sudden drama was witnessed when the First Lady of South Africa, Gloria Bongekile Ngema Zuma, moved restlessly in her seat. It was understood by the organisers that she was eager to leave as she was getting late for the evening engagement.
It was evident that the biggest multilateral diplomatic event of the year, which sparkled with glamour, however was running almost two hours behind the schedule. The summit went on for more than two hours beyond its stipulated timeline, jeopardising plans for the Presidential banquet at the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
What made things worse outside was the traffic snarl which ensured that lower level delegates would be stuck in the traffic for long. According to the media advisory for the summit, President Pranab Mukherjee was scheduled to welcome guests at 7 p.m. However, the summit was still going strong with almost eight speakers, including Prime Minister Narendra Modi, yet to speak at 7 p.m.
The event also began late, though the organisers had planned things meticulously. A major debate backstage took place on the name and the honorific of Nkosazana Dlamini Zuma, Chairperson, AUC, as her name went up on the big screen with the usual H.E., which failed to display due gender difference. A junior diplomat also made the presentation difficult when he insisted that the African names should be read in Hindi style. However, finally he was made to withdraw his erratic demand.
Another issue was, of course, the last-minute arrival of the heads of the state that gave very little time to ensure that they were informed of the stage management protocol. As a result, several heads of the state spoke beyond the prescribed time limit. A back stage source later told The Hindu that it appeared that the importance of the three lights (green, orange and red) overhead meant to indicate the time limit for speech, was not adequately explained to the various delegations as the guests continued to speak even when the red light was blinking.
However, the event’s best part was that the chief organiser, Syed Akbaruddin, Additional Secretary of the MEA, kept his cool and presence of mind. At one point after the group photograph in the morning, several leaders stood up to leave even before the photograph session was over.