The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong on wild goose chase
- Expecting Lebanese team, party leaders meet Thais

New Delhi, Aug. 29: If the phone rings past midnight, it had better be important, don’t you think'

It was. A “high-level” delegation from Lebanon, currently the world’s hottest spot and the Indian government’s weak spot, will come calling at the Congress headquarters the next afternoon. That is important, rudely awakened Congress general secretaries were satisfied, presenting as it does an opportunity to put across the party’s views on the Israel-Lebanon conflict.

The Congress-led government has been criticised within the country by the Left and others for being too soft on Israel, a view that is possibly shared in West Asia, given India’s growing ties with the US.

A Congress general secretary said: “I became alert after this call, thinking it was a chance to project our viewpoint and clarify any misconceptions the Lebanese may have had.”

The “call” had come from the party’s control room, waking up the general secretaries to tell them to be present at the headquarters at 3 pm to receive the delegation.

This morning, the Congress media cell put together press releases and statements issued after the Israel strikes on Lebanon, including a strong one put out by spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi after a massacre. Journalists were told. By 2 pm, Janardhan Dwivedi, Margaret Alva, Motilal Vora, B.K. Hariprasad, V. Narayanaswamy and Oscar Fernandes lined up at 24 Akbar Road to greet the Lebanese.

A delegation turned up all right, quite a large one at that, 40 strong. But they were from Thailand!

Students, academics, members of think tanks — all wearing blue suits and yellow shirts, even the women, eager to learn how Indian democracy works.

The half-a-dozen secretaries would have been silently screaming blue murder, having been roused from sleep past midnight, but out of “sheer politeness” answered questions from the Thais who wanted to know how the Congress won the Lok Sabha elections of 2004 and what it felt like running a coalition government.

Questions about Sonia Gandhi’s renunciation of prime ministership or about when Rahul would take charge might have lifted the mood of the six, but the Thais were serious types.

Once the team left, one of the functionaries stomped out of the room. “Why does the party reduce such things to a joke' Doesn’t anyone here know the difference between Lebanon and Thailand' Do the countries sound alike'”

Another one fumed, saying Lebanon could be confused with Syria or Thailand with Malaysia, but Lebanon and Thailand — on two sides of Asia'

The control room employees ran for cover. Major Dalbir Singh, a secretary in charge of the control room, said: “I have no idea how this happened. Two days ago, there was a communication that a Thai delegation would visit the office. But it didn’t come from the foreign affairs department as is normally the case. We are like a post office, we get the information and we give the information.”

Singh declined to say who the past-midnight communicator was.

Sources said the name of Renjhi Thomas, a secretary in charge of the Congress human rights cell, on the list of party functionaries who were to meet the team, led some bright spark to conclude that the visit had something to do with Lebanon.

“If it’s human rights, it had to be Lebanon because Thailand couldn’t possibly have anything to do with this issue. At least, not in the present circumstances. That must have been some wise person’s inference,” they said.

Do you think that’s believable'

The news hadn’t reached Sonia yet. But once it does, the control room could come in for some heavy bombardment. And Natwar Singh might say: “See what happens when I’m not around to tell the difference between Lebanon and Thailand.”

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