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Wednesday, Sep 18, 2019

Political comments abroad are bad publicity for India

Speaking in Germany and the UK, Congress president Rahul Gandhi stepped up his attacks on PM Narendra Modi, BJP and RSS. He drew parallels between the RSS and Muslim Brotherhood and accused the PM of putting the country at risk.

india Updated: Aug 28, 2018 07:56 IST
Vinod Sharma
Vinod Sharma
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Rahul Gandhi at an event In Singapore on March 8.
Rahul Gandhi at an event In Singapore on March 8.(Reuters)

An itinerant Rahul Gandhi’s incessant attacks on the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh) had former external affairs minister Yashwant Sinha take to Twitter last week. The rebel BJP veteran did not name the Congress president but left little to the imagination with his advice: “I appeal to all leaders to refrain from discussing our internal issues abroad. (The) Prime Minister broke the rule first. Others need not follow his example.”

Sinha’s was a cry in the wilderness in a joust that brooked no barriers. Speaking in Germany and UK, Rahul stepped up his attacks on the PM, the BJP and the RSS. If he drew parallels between the RSS and the Muslim Brotherhood (for their apparent goals of the supra national Hindu Rashtra and Muslim Ummah respectively), he accused the PM of putting the country at risk, chasing power astride an enraged society instead of dousing disaffection caused by joblessness and lack of equal opportunity.

Two wrongs do not make a right. So it’s no gainsaying that the PM’s narrative of demonising the Congress, beginning with his 2014 address to the Indian diaspora at New York’s Madison Square Garden, drew the battle lines for a bitter confrontation. Attacks against domestic rivals in foreign countries do not sketch a happy portrait of India abroad, noted a seasoned diplomat.

Mainline parties taking domestic battles off-shore is a low without precedent in our polity. It is difficult to recall instances of past leaders washing dirty linen on alien territory and in front of foreign hosts. Barring the odd case, such as the Indian Peace Keeping Force in Sri Lanka in the late 1980s, there was a broad consensus on foreign policy during the regimes of Rajiv Gandhi, PV Narasimha Rao, VP Singh, IK Gujral, Atal Bihari Vajpayee and Manmohan Singh.

Very much part of diplomatic lore is Rao’s 1994 decision to send Vajpayee, then an Opposition stalwart, to defend India’s case on Kashmir at the United Nations Human Rights Commission (UNHRC) in Geneva. The masterful move led to the Indian team led by the BJP leader, and including Farooq Abdullah and Salman Khursheed, returning triumphant.

At that time, Islamabad’s internationalisation of Kashmir, which was on the boil, was finding traction in the West. Looking back, the Indian script that defeated the Pakistani plot could be a study in the diplomatic value of national unity in the face of adversity. A newly elected Benazir Bhutto then told her countrymen that the Kashmir resolution at UNHRC was withdrawn on the advice of China (which actually lent an ear to New Delhi as it had its own issues with the West on human rights).

Another illustration of such healthy consensus was what VP Singh told me during a visit to Pakistan in 1992. On Benazir Bhutto’s invitation, he had attended a conference of the Opposition leaders of SAARC countries in Karachi. Thereafter, he was to be the guest of the Pakistan government for meetings with president Ghulam Ishaq Khan and prime minister Nawaz Sharif in Islamabad.

But the communiqué adopted at the conclave had critiqued “parallel centers of power” in democratic set-ups. That was seen as a veiled attack on president Ishaq Khan at Benazir Bhutto’s behest, provoking the host government to cancel the official leg of his visit.

VP Singh broke the news to me over the phone from Karachi. “Could it be the result of some string-pulling by Narasimha Rao?” I asked. He immediately rejected the possibility: “That cannot be….we’re one people after leaving India’s shores.”

A lesson that, for the current crop of leaders.

First Published: Aug 28, 2018 07:55 IST