Mixed reactions within Congress on Nawaz Sharif’s nod to Narendra Modi’s invite

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New Delhi: Reactions in Congress varied from caution to commendation over Pakistan premier Nawaz Sharif’s acceptance of the invitation to attend prime minister-elect Narendra Modi’s oath-taking ceremony.

While senior leader Digvijay Singh hailed the decision to invite Sharif as a ‘positive change in Modi’ compared to the ‘quite contrary’ things he had been saying earlier, Congress spokesperson Shashi Tharoor said that the party feels that there is “no basis for substantive talks” at the moment between the two countries. Further, Congress leader Shakeel Ahmed said that photo opportunities are okay, but in the euphoria of coronation, Modi should not compromise national interest.

Outgoing Information and Broadcasting Minister Manish Tewari, for his part, reminded that BJP has all along maintained that terror and talks cannot go together. “It’s a very positive thing and he (Modi) has only followed the policy which was enunciated from Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to Atal Bihari Vajpayee, although he has been talking quite contrary to what he has done now. Therefore, I think it is a positive change in Modi,” Singh said.

Tharoor, who was earlier a Minister of State for External Affairs, however, had a word of caution to offer. “As far as Congress is concerned, all we have said is that there is a consensual position on the question of why we have not been inviting Nawaz Sharif or former Pakistan President Asif Ali Zardari to Delhi since 26/11. Nor have we sent our prime minister there. And that position has been related to 26/11 and the horrors of that terror attack,” Tharoor said.

He said India has maintained that until its minimum demands for progress in pursuing, prosecuting and punishing the perpetrators and accomplices behind 26/11 are not met or unless steps are taken to dismantle the infrastructure for carrying out terror attacks on India and Indian interests in Afghanistan, “there is no basis for substantive talks”.

Tharoor at the same time refrained from finding fault with Modi’s invite to Sharif for his swearing-in saying it was BJP’s prerogative. “I do not think it is right for Congress to approve of or disapprove it. That would be out of place for us,” he said, adding that the new government is doing as it thinks fit and “no one can object to celebrations”.

Tharoor, at the same time said, “Our position will be a very strong one if despite these previous statements, the government departs from the national consensus, of which BJP was also a part, and enters prematurely into substantive talks without seeing the kind of progress on the ground that we had insisted upon.”

He said that had a Congress government invited the Pakistan Prime Minister, BJP would have reminded that no progress has been made on issues that matter to India. “We will certainly play the role but we do not want to be a party pooper. If they want to have a party, we do not want to make comments about the guest list,” Tharoor said in an apparent bid to make light of the invite to Sharif.

Meanwhile, taking a jibe at BJP ally Shiv Sena, Congress MP from Maharashtra Rajiv Satav tweeted, “Sharif was PM Pakistan during Kargil war. Now invited for Modi swearing in ceremony. Its insult of 527 Shahid Jawan.” In another tweet, he said, “Shivsena never allowed Pak Players to India and now red carpet for Pak PM. Is this Modi effect? Pak ke acche din aa gaye.”

Manish Tewari hoped that after assuming office, the BJP government would raise the issue of the slow pace of inquiry into the 26/11 attacks — an issue “which had been troubling them”. He also said that the issue of people like 26/11 mastermind Hafiz Saeed should be raised with Pakistan. “They have also periodically been raising the issue of the return of Dawood Ibrahim, who allegedly is being sheltered by the establishment in Pakistan. So, we hope that BJP remains true to the position it has taken over the past 10 years and raises these issues with the Prime Minister of Pakistan when he comes to India,” Tewari said. “According to BJP, terror modules and Dawood are still active in Pakistan,” he said, a comment, which was echoed by Ahmed.

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