The confusion over Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s meeting with the Chinese Ambassador to India reflects poorly on the grand old party.
After news broke about the meeting, Congress spokespersons rushed to refute it and called it "fake news". Hours later Rahul Gandhi tweeted that he had indeed met the Chinese Ambassador. This was followed by the same spokespersons doing a somersault and defending the meeting.
The Congress media department and its battery of spokespersons need to introspect why it should be a matter of extreme defensive posture if their vice-president meets Chinese envoy at a time when there are full-scale diplomatic ties with China and the total volume of bilateral trade between the two countries is estimated to be worth about $71 billion.
Inexperience on the part of Rahul, lack of understanding of diplomatic nuances among Congress leaders, vital communications gap between Rahul and the AICC media department, and the absence of party leaders of the stature of Pranab Mukherjee and PV Narasimha Rao and a combination of other factors are responsible for the sorry state of affairs within the Congress.
Rahul can, however, draw solace from the fact that Sonia Gandhi too had made similar mistakes. She, however, made quick amends
When Sonia took over as Congress president in 1998, she was upset to learn that Narasimha Rao had made a submission before the Constitution review panel set up by then Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. It was headed by Justice MN Venkatachaliah and consisting of known Sonia-baiters such as PA Sangma. Fearing ‘foul play’, the Congress had decided to boycott the panel’s meetings. Sonia was, therefore, unhappy when she was told that Narasimha Rao had made a submission before the panel.
However, instead of issuing any statement against Narasimha Rao, Sonia turned to Pranab Mukherjee and despatched the veteran leader to gauge his mood. The Chanakya of Indian politics told Mukherjee that he had done nothing wrong. He had gone to clear Indira Gandhi’s name in the context of the accession of Sikkim. Rao had apparently told the panel that it was grossly wrong to view Indira’s move to annexe Sikkim as an Indian State as one that had played havoc with constitutional provisions. Sonia quickly gave him a clean chit, saying she had always held him in high regard and her mother-in-law, too, had had great regard for Narasimha Rao.
Incidentally, in the context of China, the Narasimha Rao camp in the early-1990s had harboured the feeling that the Chinese did not accord him the importance befitting his stature as Prime Minister and Congress president because he did not have a ‘Gandhi-Nehru’ surname.
In September 1993 Narasimha Rao visited China. He was particularly keen to call on Chinese leader Deng Xiaoping who had never held office as the head of state or head of government. But Narasimha Rao was keen to call on the theorist and reformer who had successfully led China to market economy.
However, the Chinese authorities expressed their inability to accommodate his wish. Narasimha Rao used RAW’s services, urging them to point out that during Rajiv Gandhi’s visit to China he had called on Deng. Officials of RAW reportedly told Narasimha Rao that the Chinese had treated Rajiv as ‘special’ because he was the son of Indira Gandhi. They were not prepared to extend the same gesture to Him as Deng had not received the then Russian President, Boris Yeltsin, who had visited Beijing around the same time.
Incidentally, the Chinese continued to give preferential treatment to the Gandhis. In October 2007, when Rahul Gandhi accompanied Sonia to China, the otherwise aloof Chinese went an extra mile to welcome him. The Chinese establishment reportedly viewed Rahul as the 'princeling' who was tipped to take up a future leadership position in India. The spotlight on Rahul was so strong that some leading communist leaders succeeded in convincing him and, in turn, Sonia, that instead of viewing itself as an Asian counterweight to and competing with China, India should cooperate with it.
Rasheed Kidwai is the Associate Editor with The Telegraph. His Twitter handle is: @rasheedkidwai)
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