WHILE CONGRESS has been critical of the government’s handling of the evacuation of Indians from Ukraine, a consultative committee meeting of the External Affairs Ministry on Thursday saw the Opposition members largely appreciating efforts of the diplomatic corps, with Rahul Gandhi saying war situations are always challenging and “there are no perfect solutions in such situations”.
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Opposition members on the panel, particularly Congress’s Shashi Tharoor, did point out that the government did not take “timely action” to get Indians out of Ukraine but, displaying a rare gesture of bipartisanship, they refrained from indulging in a political blame game at the two-and-half hour meeting chaired by External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar. Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla have a detailed presentation to the MPs.
The Opposition MPs said the atmosphere at the meeting was very “amicable and constructive”.
The meeting was attended by nine MPs – three from Congress, two from BJP and one each from Shiv Sena, RJD, YSRCP and BJD.
Given that China and Russia are growing closer, Rahul asked whether Moscow, India’s largest arms supplier, would now become more dependent on Beijing following severe sanctions imposed by the Western bloc and European countries. Jaishankar is learnt to have replied that India is too big a country and Russia understands India’s importance. Rahul Gandhi after the consultative committee meeting on Ukraine in New Delhi on Thursday. (Anil Sharma)
Rahul also asked whether the Russian attack would become a template for China in Arunachal Pradesh and Ladakh. Jaishankar replied that India is India and Ukraine is Ukraine.
Rahul argued that the government’s priority now should be to get all Indian students out of Ukraine safely. He, however, added that war situations are always challenging. “There are no perfect solutions in such situations,” he said, and appreciated efforts being taken by the Indian officials and the mission. Hours later, he put out a tweet saying, “Evacuation is a Duty, not a Favour.”
Tharoor asked why the government dithered on evacuating Indians before the war broke out, pointing out that the US and UK asked their citizens to leave the country at least 10 days earlier. He said while the government has said there are no Indians left in Kyiv, videos circulating on social media show Indians are still trapped in the Ukrainian capital.
Tharoor reiterated his criticism of the government’s stance vis a vis the Russian aggression. He argued that India in its earlier speeches at the UN failed to reiterate the “principles” that New Delhi always stood for in international affairs. He said India did talk about the “principles” in its later speeches. Jaishankar replied that New Delhi’s initial statements were before the war broke out. Tharoor countered, saying India did not underscore the principles in its first explanation note on abstention. He also asked about New Delhi’s assessment of Russia’s strategic objectives and their intent. The government, it is learnt, was not forthcoming on this.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma pointed out that India is in a tight diplomatic position and it has to do a “fine balancing act”. He said New Delhi cannot take a partisan position and should engage with both sides if it has to use its influence and goodwill. He said the larger national interest should be borne in mind. If India takes a partisan approach, there is a possibility that one of the sides may not engage with New Delhi at all.
Against the backdrop of her Twitter spat with Adam Burakowski, Ambassador of Poland to India, Shiv Sena’s Priyanka Chaturvedi broached the topic. She said it was not right on part of the Ambassador to target her and ask her not to spread fake news. It is learnt that Jaishankar empathised with her. The BJP’s G V L Narasimha Rao said India is the only country which is conducting organised evacuations.
Calling the meeting “excellent”, Tharoor in a tweet thanked Jaishankar and his colleagues for giving a “comprehensive briefing and candid responses to our questions and concerns”.
“This is the spirit in which foreign policy should be run,” he tweeted. “Frank discussions took place in an amicable atmosphere, a reminder that when it comes to national interests, we are all Indians first and foremost…”