It is the Rahul Gandhi meets China envoy controversy all over again. In July this year, Congress found itself in a quandary when within 24 hours, they first denied, and then admitted that Rahul Gandhi had met up with Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui amid the then ongoing standoff between India and China. Now replace China with Pakistan and replace Rahul Gandhi with other senior Congress leaders.
Yesterday, in a speech in a Gujarat Rally, Modi mentioned stated how news reports were discussing a “secret” meeting of some Pakistani officials and some Congress leaders. He reportedly said:
“Across the media yesterday there was a discussion…that at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house…Pakistan’s high commissioner, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, India’s former vice president, and India’s former Prime Minister…Manmohan Singh…they had a meeting at Mani Shankar’s house. The meeting lasted three hours. And the next day, this Mani Shankar called Modi ‘neech”/”low-level’… “It is a serious matter… that Pakistan … its a sensitive issue… at that time what is the reason to have such a secret meeting with the Pakistan high commissioner? And while elections are on in Gujarat, what is the reason for this type of secret meeting?”
The allegation was clear: Some current and former Pakistani officials had met up with Congress leaders like Mani Shankar Aiyar and former PM Manmohan Singh. Modi asked what was the purpose of the secret meeting at a time when Gujarat was going to polls. Modi steered clear of making any direct allegations of collusion or anti-national activity, but the innuendo was clear.
Congress began its damage control by denial. An NDTV report claimed that the Congress had termed the allegations “baseless”. It quoted Randeep Singh Surjewala, Congress spokesperson as saying:
“Holding the country’s topmost post, Modiji is making baseless allegations. Modiji is worried, dejected, angry. Such a statement has no truth or fact, and is based on lies. Such a behaviour is unbecoming of a Prime Minister.”
“If he had this information, and if it is true, which is not, then it would have been an act of treason and action should have been there under law. Why is he crying there? If there is anything like that, why has he spoken now?”
Congress supporters too accused the Prime Minister of indulging in “Trump-level ranting”:
People, this is serious. This is an extraordinary accusation to come from a prime minister against an MP. If Modi can’t or won’t substantiate it the PM’s office will have lost a great deal of credibility. Right now, it looks like Trump-level ranting https://t.co/rSav4wnXG3
— Mihir Sharma (@mihirssharma) December 10, 2017
Today, General Kapoor, one of the alleged attendees of the meeting went on record admitting that such a meeting indeed took place. The Indian Express report also claimed that other attendees to admitted that there was such a meeting, but all, including General Kapoor denied that any discussion relating to domestic politics took place.
While there is no reason to distrust that General Kapoor would not discuss Indian politics with Pakistan officials, the same can not be said about Mani Shankar Aiyar. A person who goes to Pakistan and tells them to ‘remove Modi and bring Congress to power’ and talks about Bihar elections, would find it next to impossible to repeat the same in context of Gujarat elections:
Inko hataiye humein le aaiye… mani Shankar aiyyar during his talk to a Pakistan channel while he was in Pakistan. pic.twitter.com/ZeErRtcPJq
— अंकित जैन (@indiantweeter) December 11, 2017
Regardless of what was discussed, it became official that such a meeting did take place. Congress leader Anand Sharma sang a different tune today. He accepted that the meeting did take place but denied any sinister intentions. To complete the U-Turn of the Congress, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who was reported by NDTV as being silent during the meeting, issued a statement today, which was tweeted out by the Congress social media handle.
Singh admitted that there was a dinner meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar’s place but stressed that Gujarat was not discussed. Not only did he admit to the meeting, he gave a list of all the attendees:
With this, Congress has now virtually accepted Modi’s direct allegation that a meeting took place involving certain Pakistani and Congress people, during the height of the Gujarat elections. Modi’s innuendo that this meeting was linked to the Gujarat elections, has been denied by all concerned.
The Congress can only escape from this tangle by claiming they had initially denied only the innuendo and not the meeting. But the damage seems to be done, as BJP is now asking why did the party first deny the meeting taking place.