The Congress on Monday tied itself up in knots over a meeting between party vice-president Rahul Gandhi and Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui, amid the border standoff between New Delhi and Beijing. At first, the party denied the meeting took place, but confirmed it hours later. It, however, did not specify at whose instance the meeting was held on July 8, saying those specifics were not relevant.
“It is my job to be informed on critical issues. I met the Chinese Ambassador, Ex-NSA, Congress leaders from NE and the Bhutanese Ambassador,” Rahul tweeted in the evening. Senior Congress leader Manish Tewari identified the ex-NSA as Shivshankar Menon. Also Read: No bilateral meeting took place between PM Modi and President Xi Jinping: China
But earlier in the day, the Congress had a different take. “A wanting to be Bhakt channel will not question 3 Union Ministers visiting China or PM’s bonhomie & praise at G20 yet run fake news,” Congress’s communication department head Randeep Surjewala tweeted in the morning.
“Media having meltdown over non-existent meeting b/w @OfficeOfRG & Ambassador but remains mum on PM praise for China,” tweeted the party’s national media panelist Jaiveer Shergill. Also Read: As India-China standoff continues, absence of full-time Defence minister is glaring
Speaking on the issue at the AICC briefing in the evening, Tewari said: “The Congress vice-president, in the course of his regular work schedule, meets with a broad spectrum of people including diplomats. He did meet with the Chinese Ambassador, he did meet with the Bhutanese Ambassador, he did meet with the former NSA Shivshankar Menon.
“And for all those people who have been getting very angsty about it since morning, I have some questions too. If so much of a brouhaha is being made about it, then why did the Prime Minister of India actually cross the Lake Alster and go to the Grand Elysée Hotel to meet Chinese President Xi Jinping, especially after the Chinese had made it known that a structured bilateral meeting is not possible… And may I ask what was HRD Minister Prakash Javadekar doing in Beijing? And what was Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma doing in Beijing? And this is all on July 6 and 7. What was the Union Minister for Health and Family Welfare J P Nadda also doing in China at the same time? And why is an India Foundation delegation… now in China after two of their researchers were refused a visa… So let’s get real about it… in the normal course of business, people meet other people, and people in public life do try and acquaint themselves with the facts.”
Rahul tweeted on similar lines. “If Govt is so concerned abt me meeting an Amb, they shld explain why 3 Ministers are availing Chinese hospitality while the border issue is on… And for the record I am not the guy sitting on the swing while a thousand Chinese troops had physically entered India,” he tweeted, with a 2014 photograph of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Xi Jinping on a swing on the Sabarmati riverfront in Ahmedabad.
Asked about the denials, senior Congress leader Anand Sharma said: “There may have been a communication gap or a glitch. Because those who were privy to it would not have done that. Maybe, it was an initial communication gap which was corrected soon after… I don’t think Rahul Gandhi ever denied. There was some initial misunderstanding and it was soon cleared.”
About the standoff with China, Tewari said the Congress is “extremely concerned because there seems to be almost a two-front situation developing, and it is unfortunate that in the last 38 months, for a substantive period of time, India has not had a full-time Defence Minister.”