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Congress' flip-flop on Rahul Gandhi meeting Chinese envoy is yet another sign that the party is rudderless

The Congress party's flip-flop on Rahul Gandhi's meeting with Chinese Ambassador to India Luo Zhaohui indicates yet again that the grand old party is rudderless. It remains clueless about what position to take in public even when it directly concerns the Congress vice-president.

The party first denied that the Chinese ambassador met Rahul. Its communication department in-charge Randeep Singh Surjewala who is believed to be close to the party vice-president termed it "fake news" and called the television channels which aired the news as "bhakts". The party later, however, made an embarrassing U-turn and confirmed Rahul's "normal courtesy meeting" with the Chinese envoy.

 Congress flip-flop on Rahul Gandhi meeting Chinese envoy is yet another sign that the party is rudderless

File image of Rahul Gandhi. AFP

The two contradictory statements came from the same person — Surjewala. To his credit, he remained completely unfazed throughout the gaffe.

It all began with a brief posted on the official website of the Chinese Embassy on Monday stating: "On 8 July, Ambassador Luo Zhaohui met with Rahul Gandhi, vice-chairman of the Congress party and exchanged views on current Sino-Indian relations." Meanwhile, according to a Firstpost Hindi report, the embassy website has since deleted the post.

As soon as the news hit the headlines, the Congress party spokespersons went on an overdrive to deny it. Anyone who understands the functioning of political parties would know that spokespersons would not dare to call the news "fake" or "planted" or aired by "bhakts" without the clearance from Rahul or some other top boss. Similarly, the volte-face on the issue came from the top. It can't be the doing of only the spokespersons.

Moreover, after Congress denied Rahul's meeting with Luo Zhaohui, the Chinese embassy deleted the post.

This is what Surjewala tweeted in the morning, hours before he had to confirm the meeting:

The Congress party does not realise that its afternoon bravado of "what's wrong with Rahul Gandhi meeting with Chinese envoy" and counting the names of Union ministers who recently visited China to enhance bilateral cooperation fails to cut ice. The Congress once again made a mockery of its leader and the party. The problem for Rahul was perhaps the timing of the meeting. On 7 July, he had tweeted lampooning Narendra Modi, "Why is our Prime Minister silent on China?"

Amid the border standoff and with some Chinese officials warning India of severe consequences, the Congress vice-president met the Chinese envoy. Nothing wrong in that. Despite the tension on the border, Modi did have a brief meeting with Chinese President Xi Jinping on the sidelines of the G20 Summit.

Only Rahul can explain why he wanted to be so secretive about his meeting with the Chinese envoy. He has to explain why the party denied the meeting and later decided to confirm it, landing itself into yet another controversy. What transpired in the meeting is anybody's guess.

A few years ago, Rahul's meeting with then American envoy Timothy Roemer generated enough controversy in domestic politics. In December 2010, WikiLeaks revealed that the Congress vice-president told the latter that Hindu extremist groups could pose a greater threat to his country than Muslim militants.

Jason Burke wrote in The Guardian: "Gandhi, who is considered a likely prime ministerial candidate, warned Timothy Roemer that though there was evidence of some support for (Islamist group Lashkar-e-Taiba) among certain elements in India's indigenous Muslim community, the bigger threat may be the growth of radicalised Hindu groups, which create religious tensions and political confrontations with the Muslim community". 

It is perhaps why the Congress went on an overdrive to stress that Rahul was mindful of the national position and standoff at the Indo-China border.

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Updated Date: Jul 10, 2017 20:22:09 IST