Indian senior diplomat stirs new controversy with Saudi "interlocutor" remarks

19:07, March 01, 2010      

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Alike or unlike many Indian politicians, what the country's maverick Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor talks about seems to be always bringing controversy.

Tharoor, a 51-year-old former United Nations top diplomat who is regarded as a rising star of India's diplomatic circle, has waded into fresh trouble yet again -- this time for his Saudi " interlocutor" gaffe which has not only embarrassed the government but raised eyebrows in India's political circles.

When accompanying Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on a visit to Saudi Arabia, Tharoor said on Sunday Saudi Arabia can play the role of "interlocutor" in talks between India and Pakistan, which was relaunched last week.

"We feel that Saudi Arabia of course has a long and close relationship with Pakistan but that makes Saudi Arabia even a more valuable interlocutor for us," said Tharoor.

Though Tharoor has already issued a clarification on social networking site Twitter's page that he did not mean Riyadh should be a mediator, highly placed government sources said that there is considerable amount of unhappiness over Tharoor's statement, especially when he is part of an entourage to the oil-rich kingdom led by the prime minister himself.

"The Prime Minister's Office is embarrassed by the statement. Even the Indian External Affairs Minister S.M. Krishna is unhappy over Tharoor's remarks. This is against India's stand. New Delhi had and will never allow third party mediation in its dispute with Pakistan," the sources said.

Tharoor didn't name Kashmir in his statement, nevertheless political analysts claim that the minister of state was talking about an issue which is at the heart of the Indo-Pakistan bone of contention for decades, and it was "uncalled" for.

"India wants to resolve the Kashmir dispute with Pakistan bilaterally. Twelve years back, when the then British Foreign Secretary Robin Cook offered his mediation in Kashmir, it overshadowed the British Queen's trip to India that year for the 50th anniversary of India's independence," said political analyst Ajay Singh.

"India was furious at the suggestion at that time. A few years later, when Cook's successor Jack Straw also showed his eagerness on the issue, he got a similar hostile response," he added.

Added another political analyst S.K. Gupta, "Tharoor tried to spin out an unconvincing explanation by drawing a distinction between 'mediator' and 'interlocutor' in his clarification. But, no one is willing to buy his argument. It is something which hurts India's sentiments. No doubt it was uncalled for from a person who was a top UN diplomat."

In fact, India's opposition parties have also come down heavily on Tharoor for his remarks, with the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) describing his statement as "utterly irresponsible."

"Tharoor's comment is utterly irresponsible and we thoroughly condemn it. Has the statement been made with the consent of the Prime Minister? Is this a trial balloon? " said BJP spokesperson Ravishankar Prasad.

"There has been no third party mediation (in Indo-Pak ties). Tharoor's remarks are an insult to India's sovereignty. We will seek a clarification from the Prime Minister in Parliament," he said.

Sameer Bose of Delhi University said that Tharoor has earlier been associated with a number of controversies for his uncalled remarks, such as describing as "cattle class" the economy class air travel which the Congress party had asked its officials to use to save money, as well as his comment on Indian diplomacy of Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru as "moralizing."

Each time the controversy rose, Tharoor tried to clarify it on the Twitter and once slammed the Indian media for misinterpreting his remarks.

"This is high time that Tharoor became a little diplomatic when it comes to touchy issues like Kashmir," Sameer Bose of Delhi University said.

Source:Xinhua
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