Minister of state for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor on Sunday kicked up a fresh political storm for his comment that Saudi Arabia can be a “valuable interlocutor” between India and Pakistan.
Within hours, the minister clarified that his comment was “misread” by a section of the media as his views were seen as going against New Delhi’s position of India-Pakistan issues being discussed bilaterally, without any third party intervention or mediation.
This is not Tharoor’s first brush with controversy over his comments. He landed in trouble for posting an update on Twitter saying he was flying “cattle class” (economy) because of an austerity drive. In another tweet, he questioned the tightening of visa norms for foreigners, saying the 26/11 terrorists had no visas.
Here is what the minister has said now to reporters: “We feel Saudi Arabia, of course, has a long and close relationship with Pakistan. But that makes Saudi Arabia even a more of a valuable interlocutor for when we tell them about our experience, Saudi Arabia listens as somebody who is not in any ways an enemy of Pakistan but a friend of Pakistan, therefore will listen with sympathy and concern to a matter of this nature.”
Tharoor’s comment came in response to a question on how he saw cooperation with Saudi Arabia, considering it is a close friend of Pakistan, at a reception hosted by Indian ambassador in Riyadh, Talmiz Ahmed, late Saturday evening.
Next morning, it was all over the news channels back in India. The opposition BJP and Left parties sprung into action on an otherwise dull Sunday, and threatened to raise the issue in parliament.
“We thoroughly condemn the utterly irresponsible comments,” said BJP spokesperson Ravi Shankar Prasad.
“The Prime Minister should explain whether there is any shift in the stand on resolving issues between India and Pakistan bilaterally,” said CPI leader D. Raja.
The Congress officially chose not to react, but some leaders, on condition of anonymity, expressed anger against him for “landing the government in trouble again and again”.
With the memories of the wording of the joint statement at Sharm-al-Sheikh still fresh, the government took no chances and asked Tharoor to clarify his remarks.
“A section of the media has misread the remarks made by me in Riyadh last evening. What I basically said was that Saudi Arabia is a valuable interlocutor for India. Any other interpretation was neither meant nor warranted,” Tharoor said in his clarification.
But he tweeted earlier to clarify, explaining the meaning of the world interlocutor. “If I speak to u, (you) u (you) are my interlocutor! I mentioned the Saudis as OUR interlocutors, ie the people we are here to speak to. Some misinterpret(ation),” the minister said on the microblogging site.
He also said “Good day of mtgs, (meetings) marred in some Indian media by misunderstanding of word “interlocutor”.