Prime Minister Narendra Modi should issue an explanation on US President Donald Trump's claim on Kashmir mediation, says Lok Sabha MP and senior Congress leader Shashi Tharoor.
Speaking to CNBC-TV18.com's Binoy Prabhakar, Tharoor emphasised his stance on the issue. "I am entirely with the Congress Party and their stand on this. I did not say that Prime Minister Modi does not need to clarify; on the contrary, he must because when I saw the whole video of the encounter, President Trump directly quotes PM Modi. So there is no point in getting anyone else to say that this never happened because obviously the fact remains that it is now a direct quote of a two-person conversation in which one person says this was said and now it is incumbent upon the other person to say it was not said," the lawmaker pointed out.
Edited excerpts from the interview. You tweeted that US President Trump does not have the slightest idea of what he is talking about regarding his offer to meditate on Kashmir. That position seems to be the opposite of what the Congress Party said so far. What are your thoughts on that?
I am entirely with the Congress Party and their stand on this. I did not say that Prime Minister Modi does not need to clarify, on the contrary he must because when I saw the whole video of the encounter, President Trump directly quotes Prime Minister Modi. So there is no point in getting anyone else to say that this never happened because obviously the fact remains that it is now a direct quote of a two person conversation in which person says this was said and now it is incumbent upon the other person to say it was not said. I do not believe that he would have said it. I personally think that it is almost inconceivable that a Prime Minister of India would so dramatically depart from our existing policy. However, now the prime minister owes a clarification to the parliament of which he is a member and to which he is accountable. That is why the Congress Party made a bit of a ruckus in both of Houses of parliament and even staged a walkout because the fact is that while we are quite inclined to believe President Trump got it wrong, and it is not our job to give a certificate of accuracy to Trump, we need to hear it from the other man in that conversation and that is Narendra Modi himself.
What do you think the government should do given that it is a tricky terrain and the government is dealing with Donald Trump?
The fact is that we are now in a very unfortunate position because obviously Modi said something that Trump misunderstood. Maybe a clarification -- he could say something like I mentioned that the situation in Kashmir is under control or that Pakistan keeps raising this issue and we are unhappy about it. He must have said something otherwise the word Kashmir would not have rung in Trump's head. So, some clarification that this is what he said, but it was not what Trump understood; that would be a diplomatic way of not accusing him of lying or having completely got it wrong, but just perhaps he heard the word Kashmir and got some other message, something like that.
We do not know, nobody knows, even Jaishankar was not sitting there when the two of them were talking in Osaka because again by saying I spoke to Modi two weeks ago, 20 days ago, he is referring specifically to the G20 in Osaka. So, in that particular event Modi has to recall what did he say to Trump that could have been so completely misunderstood and of course has now created this huge firestorm in our parliament.
I remember not so long ago when I was in my first stint in the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA), the BJP paralysing the house for a day demanding that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh should give an explanation about a controversial statement on the Sharm el-Sheikh communique. In the end the Prime Minister did give a statement and he explained the situation and they continued making a ruckus inside and outside the house. To my mind as far as our friends in the BJP today are concerned, turnabout is fair play. We are following the golden rules that says do unto them what they have done unto us. We are also demanding an explanation and to my mind it is a very fair request. We gave in to the request and explained, and I think the prime minister owes it to us to explain.
I want to ask you about the Congress. The party has again suffered a very crushing defeat. Congress president Rahul Gandhi has resigned and there is no successor in sight for him. So, what really is happening here?
I wish I could give you a simple answer because it is a complicated phase and there is no doubt that the drift and indecision at the very top of the party is hurting. A lot of people miss the fact of having a particular leader to look to for decisions, authority, for inspiration and to energise the workers which isn't happening right now.
I certainly hope that without delay the Congress working committee will do its job of naming an interim president. It should probably then dissolve itself and then invite the larger membership through the All India Congress Committee (AICC) and the Pradesh Congress Committee (PCC) delegates to elect a new president and a new working committee. Just as we have seen the Conservative Party in Britain getting a lot of attention because of its leadership race, a similar sort of race in India might galvanise once again interest in the Congress Party and I would all be very much strongly in favour of that.
However in the longer term, if you take a 5-year horizon, I would say that the prospects are bound to be bright for two major reasons. One, of all the opposition parties to the BJP, all the alternatives, we are the only one with a credible national footprint. Yes you are right we lost but we won everywhere. You may have won 20 seats in a state 10 years ago and you won only 2 seats this time but you still had a presence pretty much North, East, West and South of the country and that is something that no other party can say. All the other opposition parties are regional ones, they are strong in one state, they may have some influence in the neighbouring state and that is it. The Congress is a truly national party.
It seems to me that if we are looking at a certain amount of exhaustion with the BJP for the next elections, which seems inevitable given their actual performance has not matched their propaganda, then it seems to me that when people say who is the alternative? The obvious one to present itself will be the one national party that has a credible India-wide presence and that is us.
What are your thoughts on Rahul Gandhi's resignation? Should he have resigned, should he have continued?
I genuinely respect his principles. He said that he felt that there should be a culture of accountability in the party, that people must take responsibility and he has done so. In fact in many ways, his statement raises the question, why haven't others also taken responsibility? Some have, some general secretaries have resigned, some PCC chiefs have resigned and I think that makes sense, others have not. One of the question that comes up is, where does the culture of accountability start and finish? It doesn't start and finish only at the top. I think at all levels of the party, we need to look at ourselves and may be one thing we ought to do is renew ourselves, refresh ourselves through new elections. Let the process of the workers choosing leaders turn up new faces.
Captain Amarinder Singh the Punjab chief minister has called for younger blood in the party. Do you agree?
I agree with that. I think we need a president who will both inspire the workers and energise the voters or appeal to the voters across the country.
If the president is purely an organisation person, he or she may not be able to bring new votes to the party. If the president is a charismatic figure without organisational energies then the organisation may not be there to support his or her charisma. Therefore we would hope that a younger leader, not jaded by having played these roles for too long, would be in a better position to do both - that is to energise the organisation and at the same time appeal to voters beyond the 19 percent we got in the last two elections.
Many of the Congress workers who think Priyanka Gandhi fits the bill. Do you think she would be an ideal successor?
When the process comes, I would certainly hope that she would be one of those who throw their hat in the ring. Rahul Gandhi while departing said that he did not want a member of the Gandhi family to come and that certainly makes it a bit of a challenge but it is for the Gandhi family to decide if they all agree that they should not participate. However either way I think an electoral process would be healthy and would legitimise whether a Gandhi or a non-Gandhi, whoever aspires to lead the party at this very difficult time.
No, I do not think so, not because of any excessive modesty but simply because I think part of the task of the president in opposition is to stir up the organisation. Within the organisation I am relatively new. I have only had about 10 years, I have not been a general secretary. The organisation I head - the All India Professionals Congress, is focused on a fairly narrow segment of society and it is an important segment but it doesn't I think in many ways entitle me to believe I can lead the entire organisation.
Are you a contender?