Speaking publicly for the first time after his speech in Parliament on the no-confidence motion in Lok Sabha, Congress president Rahul Gandhi reiterated his strategy to “fight” political opponents, “but not hate” them. Being asked to speak at a book launch where he was the ‘guest of honour’, Rahul alluded to his gesture of hugging the Prime Minister in the Lok Sabha, while discussing “the fight” he may wage with those he thought it was necessary to disagree with, and to “fight… but not hate”.
Referring to former deputy Prime Minister and Home Minister LK Advani, who was in the audience at the launch of journalist Karan Thapar’s memoirs, The Devil’s Advocate, Rahul said, “You can fight someone but hate is an active choice you make. I disagree with Mr Advani, I can fight him every inch, but I don’t need to hate him, I can hug him and fight him.” He added, jokingly, “now, BJP MPs step back when they see me, perhaps wondering, if I will hug them”.
“Mr Karan Singh is here, who has taught me a lot about our country and about our religion, that teaches us to not hate. My friend Mr (Sitaram) Yechury (General Secretary, CPM) is here too, we will fight the hate together but we don’t need to hate them. Now I don’t know if they (BJP leaders) feel that way,” he said.
Referring to a boat ride he took in the Mekong river in Vietnam, where the boatman, scarred as a child by an “American bomb” that killed his mother when he was too little to understand its implications, Rahul spoke of how the boatman described the way he went on to “fight the Americans with the Viet Cong, got hit by a grenade in the head, so much so that it left a big hole in his head”. Yet, said Rahul, “the boatman said he did not hate the Americans. He fought them because he had to fight them, but not hated them.”
Earlier, Congress MP Shashi Tharoor read out three extracts from Thapar’s book, the first about time spent with former Pakistan PM Benazir Bhutto at Oxford, the second about then Home Minister P V Narasimha Rao calling Thapar to try and get a line deleted from an interview, and the third from his short, aborted interview with PM Narendra Modi, when he was the Gujarat Chief Minister.
Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was also present and unveiled a copy of the book alongside Rahul. Among others present were Congress leaders Salman Khursheed, Jyotiradatiya Scindia and RPN Singh, former Vice President Hamid Ansari, former Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, and MPs Naresh Gujral, Ahmed Patel and Digvijaya Singh.
Thapar was in conversation with his colleague for years, Rajdeep Sardesai, after Rahul spoke. The discussion began with Sardesai asking Thapar why he tried to mediate between former deputy PM Advani and the former Pakistan High Commissioner Ashraf Qazi, and why he did that “as a journalist”. Thapar said he felt good about playing a role in bringing two countries together and “never revealed anything at the time”, arguing that it did not inhibit his work as a journalist.
In a detailed segment of the book, Thapar recounts his three-and-a-half minute interview which Modi terminated after asking for a glass of water. Thapar has alleged that the entire BJP brass was told to boycott him at the behest of PM Modi. Thapar said senior and junior BJP ministers and spokespersons, who were giving him interviews till 2015, stopped giving them entirely despite Modi ending their meeting by saying, “Karan, I love you, we will meet and eat a meal in Delhi”.