Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar is known for his erudition, wit, sharp debating skills and a contrarian view of the world. His penchant for the smart repartee is, however, lately extending into a needless overstretch. His remarks on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s humble origins during last year’s campaign were offensive and Mr Aiyar has again been criticised for telling a Pakistani news channel that PM Modi will have to be “removed” from office for India’s relations with Pakistan to prosper.
The Congress is understandably defensive on the matter and its discomfort was made more acute by former foreign minister Salman Khurshid’s remarks during a lecture at Islamabad, where he lauded Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s commitment to peace with India, which was apparently expressed by more than once putting “himself in considerable discomfort to find an opening beyond pious incantations”. Mr Khurshid also criticised India for doing little in recent months to “fortify” Mr Sharif’s endeavours and went on to question PM Modi’s experience in dealing with a variety of interlocutors.
The statements by both leaders are clearly out of line. Underlying both statements is a deep condescension for the PM that smacks of elitism and they add to the coarsening of political debate in India. The statements also do not serve the party’s interests or those of bilateral ties.
Mr Aiyar’s remarks suggest that the party has no instruments to influence foreign policy debates apart from hoping for a change of government. If the Congress has strong views on the course of policy, nothing stops it from imaginatively engaging different sections of the public either directly or the various platforms available in the digital age.
And Mr Khurshid, as a senior Congressman, should be aware of the optics of criticising the PM at a conference in Pakistan in such objectionable terms, especially when even elementary people-to-people contact with our neighbour is being subject to exaggerated scrutiny and criticism. These remarks needlessly add to the political strife ahead of the Parliament session and do not elevate the discussion on foreign policy which India-Pakistan ties would be better off with.