New Delhi: Talks between India and Pakistan can move forward only if Prime Minister Narendra Modi is removed from his post, Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar has told a Pakistani television channel.
“First, it is required to remove Modi, otherwise talks will not move forward. We’ll have to wait for four years. These people are very optimistic about Modi, they think that talks will move forward with Modi’s presence. But I don’t think so,” Aiyar told Dunya TV.
After last week’s Paris terror attacks, Aiyar had said,”anti-Islam phobia that is being carried out in the western countries should be stopped immediately”.
On his remarks about Prime Minister, Minority Affairs Minister Najma Heptulla said: “Perhaps Mani Shankar Aiyar forgot that Modi ji was elected by the people. It is a reprehensible comment and we condemn it.”
On Congress distancing from Aiyar, Heptulla said: “This is a good strategy of the Congress. First, you make them pass a statement, and then distance from it. How dare he make such statement on a Pakistani television? I know what goes on in Congress party. When they say they are distancing from the remark, I don’t believe it.”
BJP spokesperson Meenakshi Lekhi said: “Some people are behaving and conducting themselves as propagandists for ISIS (Islamic State) and Taliban. We need to watch out for fringe elements in India.”
Citing the example of Samajwadi Party, which quickly distanced itself from its leader Azam Khan’s controversial comments on the Paris attack, Lekhi asked why the Congress failed to condemn Aiyar’s remarks?
“At a time when the entire world stood up to condemn the Paris attack, Mani Shankar Aiyar and Salman Khurshid were speaking ill of our prime minister on foreign land. When Azam Khan remarked on Paris attacks, the SP was sensible to criticise what he said. But the Congress has not condemned him yet,” Lekhi said.
Khurshid, a former external affairs minister, praised Pakistani Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif recently and criticized Prime Minister Modi during his invitation lecture at the Jinnah Institute in Islamabad last week.
“Modi is not used to talking to people who disagree with him,” Khurshid had said.
Speaking about Sharif attending Modi’s swearing-in ceremony in India, Khurshid said, “If you look back at the first face-to-face between our PMs, your PM took a brave, farsighted decision. If there has been a leader of democratic Pakistan who wanted peace with India, it is (Sharif, who) was the first non-military (Pakistani) leader to try for peace.”
A recent European Union intelligence sharing exercise with India has revealed that Lockheed Martin, the US-headquartered company which manufactures the F-16 fighter jets, has been up to mischief mongering on the Rafale issue.
The Rafale jets, which India wants, is manufactured by the French aerospace company Dassault Aviation, a rival of Lockheed Martin.
That Lockheed Martin could be working in the shadows to sour the Rafale deal for India so that it could move in with its own deal was validated when Vivek Lall, Lockheed Martin’s high-profile head of strategy and India operations, said that the company was in the process of finalising the sale of 200 fighters to India.
During the UPA regime, the government had signed an MoU for 126 Rafale fighter jets to replenish a major shortcoming in air defence preparedness because the Indian Air Force did not have quality fighter jets. When the NDA government led by Prime Minister Narendra Modi came to power, this deal was revised and an inter-government deal was struck to receive 36 fully-loaded Rafale jets. The controversy now raging in India is related to the pricing for the fighters negotiated by the NDA.
In December when the Rafale case came before the Supreme Court, Chief Justice Ranjan Gogoi observed that processes were generally followed over the procurement. He also noted that the controversy had been triggered by comments by former French President Francois Hollande over the selection of the offset partner and that mere comments could not form the basis for a probe.
However, this has not prevented the Rafale purchase controversy from becoming a high-octane political battle between the Congress party and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).
Repeatedly over the past few months and more stridently now in the lead-up to the Lok Sabha elections, Congress President Rahul Gandhi has led a no-holds barred attack on the government and the Prime Minister specifically on the issue. From the earlier public disinterest on the controversy, it is now now getting some traction — the Congress party believes this could be possible because it has relentlessly raised the matter at all public forums.
Bringing up the case of the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) was said to be part of the orhestrated plan to present the case of the American companies while also appearing nationalistic. In the government’s estimate, HAL’s record is abysmal and it cannot be given a big responsibility like building fighter jets — more so in the light of the safety record of MiG fighters purchased from Russia and made under licence from HAL.
The BJP-led government at the Centre believes — and it is certain it has evidence of this — that the Congress party is doing this as it has become a party to corporate rivalry between the US and French aerospace companies. For the record, Lockheed Martin is believed to have found a sympathetic ally in another US aerospace major, Boeing, which manufactures the F-18. Dassault has another rival in French manufacturer Airbus Industrie, which is associated with BAE for the manufacture of the Eurofighter. It is also angling for a fighter jet contract with India.
Rahul Gandhi’s attacks on the government over the Rafale issue started after his visit to the US in August 2017 when he met several defence lobbyists, CEOs of US defence companies and Pentagon officials.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has been obtuse in accusing the Congress of becoming a pawn in corporate rivalry. She made the comments during a recent seminar on ‘India’s strategic interest in the context of the Rafale deal’.
The government’s efforts to trace the footprints of the dramatis personae at the forefront of the campaign to target the government over the Rafale deal has produced surprising results. It has found what it believes are eye-opening linkages between Prashant Bhushan, Yashwant Sinha and Arun Shourie — who filed a PIL in the Supreme Court accusing the Prime Minister of corruption in the deal — and arms dealers and defence manufacturers. At least in one case, the linkages show deep connections between members of Shourie’s family with aerospace companies, arms dealers and defence lobbies.
A deeper look found a correlation between the end of Shourie’s dreams of being appointed Union Finance Minister and the beginning of his tirade against the Prime Minister on one issue or the other.
The government is also aware of the links between a top BJP leader’s son-in-law and a French manufacturer. The son-in-law is said to be advising Rahul Gandhi and is believed to be making government documents available to him for the campaign against Rafale.
Lockheed Martin’s alleged actions to work the political ecosystem to pull down the Rafale procurement deal also has a larger strategic context. Contrary to popular perception, the Trump administration is said to be extremely unhappy with India because the NDA government under Modi has been successful in building strong relationships with Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates and Qatar. (IANS)