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Updated: September 27, 2009 21:02 IST

Cricket can never be a substitute, Shashi Tharoor tells Pakistan

Special Correspondent
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The Hindu

It was cricket diplomacy of another kind for Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor here this weekend when he reiterated the country’s official position on relations with Pakistan even while eulogising the capacity of the game to bring together nations. Mr. Tharoor was participating in a discussion on his book, “Shadows Across the Playing Field” before a select audience, which included guests from Pakistan accompanying his co-author, Shaharyar Khan.

The evening was filled with nostalgia as three former diplomats, Rajasthan Governor Shailendra Kumar Singh, Shaharyar Khan, the former Foreign Secretary of Pakistan and Mr. Tharoor, shared the dais on the lawns of the Jai Mahal Palace hotel for a book reading organised by Siyahi, a literary group.

Apart from the book, published by Roli Books, there was yet another factor which added significance to Mr. Tharoor’s visit to the city as Rajasthan Chief Minister Ashok Gehlot was the one who had sought the Minister’s resignation over his controversial “cattle class” and “holy cows” comments on the social networking site, Twitter, on economy class travel.

Mr. Tharoor met Mr. Gehlot

“Whatever has happened is behind us. It was a pleasant meeting,” Mr. Tharoor told journalists later. Both Mr. Tharoor and Mr. Gehlot had a 30-minute meeting at the latter’s official residence and had tea together.

Mr. Gehlot did not hide his admiration while telling Mr. Tharoor that he had keenly followed his contest to the post of the UN Secretary General. “Mr. Gehlot is not annoyed with me,” he said.

In his address at the session, conducted by senior journalist Harinder Baweja, Mr. Tharoor maintained that even when he was an “inveterate cricket nut” he did not think the game alone could do the trick for India and Pakistan, two reluctant neighbours. “We wish complementarity between both the countries,” he said pointing out that the 26/11 attacks in Mumbai had led to the delay in the release of the book. “Cricket can sometimes heal; it can sometimes divide as well but it can never be a substitute,” he noted.

On the other hand, Mr. Khan, the former chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, was more optimistic. “The first bridge of friendship will be through cricket,” he said, while acknowledging the divide created between the two nations after the wars of 1965 and 1971, the Babri Masjid demolition, Kargil and the latest incidents.

“Everything, including cricket has changed after 26/11. The countries should have a basic normal relationship to start with,” Mr. Tharoor said. He said India wanted a “normal relationship” with Pakistan but was not in a position to resume its composite dialogue. Pakistan did almost nothing to improve the relations while India had even granted it the Most Favoured Nation status, he pointed out. “Give us something before you expect us to give you something more,” he said.

Mr. Tharoor said he did not have any regrets over the reactions to his tweeting. Has he ever considered discontinuing with tweeting? “No. It is a vehicle for communication with a great reach. You cannot blame the vehicle. What is important is the message. I should be more sensible with my message,” he said, pointing out that world leaders including Barack Obama and Hillary Clinton, tweet.

“The lessons I have learnt from the current experience? What you intend to say may not be what people want to make out of it.”

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