Congress flip-flop on Rahul’s meeting with Chinese envoy

10 July, New Delhi

The Congress on Monday did a flip-flop on its Vice President Rahul Gandhi’s meeting with Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui in Delhi amidst the border stand off, but sought to do some damage control later by asking questions of the government over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hamburg last week.

Hitting back at the government, Gandhi said if it was so concerned about his July 8 meeting with the Chinese envoy how did three union ministers enjoy Chinese hospitality “while the border issue is on”. Last week, around the time Prime Minister Narendra Modi met with Chinese President Xi Jinping in Hamburg, Rahul Gandhi had questioned the “silence” of the Prime Minister on the border stand-off in Doklam, at the trijunction of India, China and Bhutan.

Inexplicably, the party started the day on a bad note calling reports on the meeting as “fake news”, only later to admit that such a meeting did indeed take place. Party spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala tweeted denying such a meeting between Gandhi and the Chinese envoy when some news channels went on air with the report.

He alleged that the report was “planted” by the External Affairs Ministry and Intelligence Bureau sources. “They should re-verify that we still have diplomatic relations with all our neighbours,” Surjewala said.

But in the evening Surjewala did a U-turn. “Various ambassadors and envoys keep meeting Congress President Sonia Gandhi and Vice President Rahul Gandhi from time to time on courtesy basis, particularly those of G5 nations as also of the neighbouring countries…be it Chinese ambassador or Bhutanese ambassador or former NSA Shiv Shankar Menon,” Surjewala said in his clarification.

However, he had no explanation on why the denial was issued in the morning. He sought to clarify that his statement that it was fake news was in the context of news channels terming the meeting as “anti-national”.

Mysteriously, the Chinese Embassy, which had posted on its website about the July 8 meeting between Gandhi and Luo, later withdrew it.

The embassy had said in its `Wechat’ account: “On July 8, Ambassador Luo Zhaohui met with Rahul Gandhi, vice-president of the Congress party. The two sides exchanged views on the current China-India relations and other business. Counsellor Zhou Yuyun attended the meeting.”

Later Gandhi himself came out with tweets defending his meeting with the Ambassador saying it was his job to be informed of critical issues.

“It is my job to be informed on critical issues. I met the Chinese Ambassador, Ex-NSA, Congress leaders from NE & the Bhutanese Ambassador,” Gandhi said.

“If the government is so concerned about me meeting an ambassador, they should explain why three ministers are availing Chinese hospitality while the border issue is on,” he added.

Gandhi also referred to an IANS report of 2014 about Chinese troops entering India during the official visit of Chinese President Xi Jinping and took a dig at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who had hosted the visiting leader in Ahmedabad. The two leaders had also sat on a swing.

“And for the record I am not the guy sitting on the swing while a thousand Chinese troops had physically entered India,” Gandhi said.

In the afternoon statement Surjewala said: “Nobody should try to sensationalise such normal courtesy calls to term them as events like the ‘sources’ from the Home Ministry are trying to do.”

“Rahul Gandhi as other opposition leaders are fully aware of our national interests and are concerned about the grave situation on the Indo-Chinese border as also the situation arising in Bhutan and Sikkim,” he added.

Speaking more specifically, he said: “So, the envoys met Rahul Gandhi, not only the Chinese envoy, but also the Bhutanese envoy, as also former National Security Advisor Shiv Shankar Menon,” he said.

The party also mounted an attack on the government, asking why so much of brouhaha was being made about the meeting while Modi went out of the way to meet Xi in his hotel in Hamburg.

“But I have some questions too. If so much of a brouhaha is being made about it then why did Prime Minister Narendra Modi actually cross Lake Alster and go to Grand Elysee Hotel to meet with the Chinese President, specially after the Chinese had made it known that a structured bilateral meeting is not possible because of the stand off.”

“What was the Minister of Human Resources Prakash Javadekar doing in Beijing. What was the Culture Minister Mahesh Sharma doing on July 6 and 7 in Beijing and what was union Health Minister J.P. Nadda doing in China at the same time,” Congress leader Manish Tiwari asked.

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