A week after Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan said there may be a better chance of the Kashmir issue being resolved if the BJP retains power, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman alleged that the remarks could be a ploy by the Congress to oust the Prime Minister Narendra Modi-led government at the Centre. In an exclusive interview with news ANI, Sitharaman said, “Such statements come around elections. There have been many Congress leaders who went to Pakistan and said Modi hatae ke liye humari mamdad kare (Help us remove Modi). I wonder if this (Imran Khan’s statements) are also a part of the scheme of things which have been put by Congress. I don’t know what to make of this honestly,” she added.
Speaking to a group of foreign journalists in Pakistan, Khan, according to a Reuters report, said that if the Congress leads the next government, it may be too scared to seek a settlement with Pakistan over Kashmir, fearing a backlash from the right. “Perhaps if the BJP — a right-wing party — wins, some kind of settlement in Kashmir could be reached,” he said. While the Opposition parties questioned why Khan was batting for the BJP, the government did not issue an official response.
On Pakistan’s claims that India was planning another attack between April 16 to 20, Sitharaman said, ” I don’t know where he got this date, so good luck to him. God knows whatever it is but it sounded very fanciful for me and amusing.”
During the interview, Sitharaman also spoke about the letter written by more than 150 military officers to President Ram Nath Kovind over the politicisation of the armed forces. She said the credibility of the appeal was lost after some retired personnel named in the letter said they “neither signed it nor were a party to it.” She added that highlighting the strong will of the government due to which Balakot air strike and Uri surgical strike took place doesn’t amount to politicisation.
She also said that the onus to prove whether a terrorist camp was hit or not during the Balakot air strikes was on Pakistan. “Has there been any one government questioning us and therefore staying away from extending their support saying ‘your claims are not verifiable’. It is for Pakistan to show they have not been hit and that a number of people were not killed. They took 40 days to take a small group of journalists and defence attaches and limited that picnic that they had of these people only to the madrasa. I am telling you the madrasa was at the lower end of the foothill and behind the madrasa, into the dense forest was the training camp. So, Pakistan is making a mockery of itself,” she said.
On the derogatory language used by the politicians during the election campaign, Sitharaman said that political leaders should apply their minds before talking. “We have to draw a line. Irrespective of the party line I think we have all learnt from public discourse. I think that there should be consciously somewhere in the back of our minds when we’re discussing in politics – Is that what is going to be the legacy we leave for the next generation?”
Asked about her meeting Congress MP Shashi Tharoor in a hospital in Thiruvananthapuram, the defence minister said she had gone to meet the ailing leader during an election campaign there as he had suffered an injury while performing a ritual at a temple. “So I thought that it was right that I go to the hospital and wish him well. I had not informed anybody, including people in my party circles. On my way back to the airport, I thought I should visit him in the hospital and that is it,” Sitharaman said. Sharing their picture, Tharoor wrote, “Civility is a rare virtue in Indian politics – great to see her practice it by example!”