Modi should say Trump is lying: Opposition
Narendra Modi has not been alone in drawing flak at home over Donald Trump’s claim that the Indian Prime Minister had asked the US President to mediate on Kashmir.
Trump too has drawn criticism at home for his comment, widely perceived as jeopardising US relations with an important ally, particularly in the context of America’s strategy of containing China.
Tuesday saw the foreign offices of both countries iterate their stated positions on India, Pakistan and Kashmir.
External affairs minister S. Jaishankar said in both Houses of Parliament there had been no shift in India’s position.
He iterated that the Prime Minister had made no request to the US President to mediate on Kashmir, adding that all outstanding issues with Pakistan would only be discussed bilaterally.
The US state department’s acting assistant secretary, Alice Wells, tweeted: “While Kashmir is a bilateral issue for both parties to discuss, the Trump administration welcomes Pakistan and India sitting down and the United States stands ready to assist.”
In India, the denial issued by the external affairs ministry last night contesting Trump’s claim and the minister’s intervention did not suffice. The Opposition demanded a categorical denial from Modi himself — including calling out Trump for his lie — in both Houses of Parliament.
While the matter settled down in the Lok Sabha with a walkout by the Congress, Trinamul, the Left parties and the DMK, it continued to fester in the Rajya Sabha for the greater part of the day. It resulted in a near-washout of the first half of proceedings and a third adjournment in the afternoon, after which the Opposition walked out demanding a denial from Modi.
The Opposition in the Rajya Sabha conceded the point made by Chairman M. Venkaiah Naidu that the House should speak in one voice on an issue of national importance. But it contended that the collective responsibility of the cabinet notwithstanding, only the Prime Minister would be able to give a satisfactory response as the conversation that Trump cited happened between the two.
“Since it is the President of America informing the Pakistan PM about the Indian Prime Minister saying it, Parliament is in session, I submit to you that the Prime Minister must respect Parliament and come to the House and clarify this,” Congress veteran Anand Sharma said.
In the Lok Sabha, his colleague Manish Tewari said: “We want to know whether such a conversation took place. And, if it did not take place, then the Prime Minister should clearly say in this House that the US President is making a false statement; that he is lying.”
Trinamul’s Saugata Roy said a reply from the minister — a career diplomat — wouldn’t be enough. “By asking Mr Trump to mediate on Kashmir, the Prime Minister seems to have violated the basic premise and compromised the territorial integrity of India,” Roy said in the lower House.
Congress leader Rahul Gandhi too weighed in with a tweet: “President Trump says PM Modi asked him to mediate between India & Pakistan on Kashmir! If true, PM Modi has betrayed India’s interests & 1972 Shimla Agreement. A weak Foreign Ministry denial won’t do. PM must tell the nation what transpired in the meeting between him & @POTUS.”
Some Opposition members privately expressed surprise at the failure of the government to register a formal protest with the US government.
In America, Trump’s claim led to a call from the chairman of the House of Representatives Committee on Foreign Affairs, Eliot L. Engel, to Indian ambassador Harsh Shringla to iterate his support for the longstanding US position on the Kashmir dispute.
According to a read-out on the conversation, Engels told the ambassador he supported dialogue between India and Pakistan, but reaffirmed that the dialogue’s pace and scope could only be determined by the two countries. And, Pakistan must take concrete and irreversible steps to dismantle the terrorist infrastructure on its soil for a dialogue to be meaningful.
Brad Sherman, a Democratic Party member in the House of Representatives, also called up Shringla to apologise for Trump’s “amateurish and embarrassing mistake”.
“Everyone who knows anything about foreign policy in South Asia knows that India consistently opposes third-party mediation re Kashmir. Everyone knows PM Modi would never suggest such a thing. Trump’s statement is amateurish and delusional. And embarrassing,” he tweeted.