At a hurriedly convened press conference on Sunday morning for which he turned up late because of extended fire-fighting telephone conversations with the Prime Minister and other Congress leaders, Mr. Tharoor came out all guns blazing

A day after reports about Shashi Tharoor’s purported criticism of Congress icons Nehru and Gandhi prompted some party leaders to censure him, the Minister of State for External Affairs came down heavily on the media for misquoting his remarks and demanded an apology from three newspapers.

Mr. Tharoor chaired a talk by Lord Bhikhu Parekh at the Indian Council of World Affairs on Friday. The next day, some newspapers and TV channels said Lord Parekh had “blasted” Nehru and Gandhi and that the junior foreign minister had endorsed his negative assessment of the impact they had had on the conduct of Indian foreign policy.

At a hurriedly convened press conference on Sunday morning for which he turned up late because of extended fire-fighting telephone conversations with the Prime Minister and other Congress leaders, Mr. Tharoor came out all guns blazing. He waved copies of the newspapers, questioned their professionalism or “lack thereof” and sought an apology from the media for writing or speaking about the event without actually having seen the tape or heard his remarks. This practice was unprofessional and dishonest, he said.

In a written statement, Mr. Tharoor described Lord Parekh’s speech as a “largely positive analysis of the major trends in Indian foreign policy.” While he expressed some criticism of past policies, “these were not inappropriate in an academic setting dedicated to free discussion of global issues, and in any case were expressed in constructive terms,” the Minister stated. Such observations are the norm at frank brainstorming conferences, he said, and wondered whether India would ever have quality think-tanks if guests like Lord Parekh were not free to express themselves.

As for the controversial remarks attributed to himself, Mr. Tharoor said that in his chairman’s remarks at the conclusion of the event, “and while summarising Lord Parekh’s main points,” he had stated: “That Indian foreign policy drew from our sense of civilisation, and the extraordinary contribution by Mahatma Gandhi and Nehruji’s articulation of our civilisational heritage, both enhanced India’s standing in the world but also earned us the negative reputation of running a moralistic commentary on world affairs – that has come through very clearly in your speech.”

Mr. Tharoor added that he went on to point out that there was more to Nehruvian policies than that, alluding to the use of force in Goa as an example of realpolitik in Indian policy.

The Minister flatly denied saying what the three newspapers – TheTimes of India, Mail Today and TheAsian Age – had placed within quotation marks. “It is a basic tenet of good journalism that any quotations within quotation marks should be the exact words spoken. This was manifestly not the case. The Asian Age even quotes extensively from Lord Parekh’s remarks and attributes them to me. This is not merely unprofessional, it is dishonest. I demand a correction.”

Asked if he expected the party high command to haul him up, Mr. Tharoor said he had no doubt that those in positions of authority would go by what was actually said rather than by newspaper and TV accounts. He acknowledged that some party spokesmen had already criticised him on the basis of press reports.

But he accused a section of the media of ambushing political leaders and wringing comments from them.

Thanking those newspapers and TV channels that saw his remarks in context and refused to rake up a controversy where none existed, Mr. Tharoor said “irresponsible reporting may briefly gratify a few sensation-seekers in the media but they do not do credit to the need for informed discussion of foreign policy issues in our democracy. India deserves better,” he said. “So, frankly, do I.”

Tharoor misquoted, says Congress

Seeking to put to rest the controversy over Minister of State for External Affairs Shashi Tharoor’s alleged remarks on Jawaharlal Nehru’s foreign policy, the Congress said on Sunday that Mr. Tharoor himself had clarified that he was misquoted.

Congress spokesman Shakeel Ahmed said, “It is clear that he was misquoted. We have nothing more to add to it.”

Another spokesman Abhishek Manu Singhvi said: “What was quoted in the press in inverted commas was obviously and clearly not supportable, [and was] incorrect and untenable. Now that the Minister has clarified that he never said so and he has been quoted out of context, the party has nothing more to add, and the matter must be allowed to rest there.”

However, Mr. Tharoor’s remarks got the support of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which said he had spoken the truth. But the party criticised the Minister for attacking the media.

The BJP sought an answer from Prime Minister Manmohan Singh whether the Congress was trying to gag the media.

“British MP Bhikhu Parekh made a remark, and possibly Mr. Tharoor concluding it said the stand of Nehru was more of a moralistic commentary. He [Tharoor] has for once spoken the truth even if it was done by mistake,” spokesperson Rajiv Pratap Rudy told reporters here.

He said the BJP was not concerned with what Mr. Tharoor said about Nehru’s foreign policy, and it was for the Congress to clarify “because the BJP believes that it has not done good to the country.”

Expressing concern at Mr. Tharoor’s remarks on the media, Mr. Rudy said he had said the Indian media was irresponsible and dishonest. Maybe, he addressed a particular group.

“The BJP would like the Prime Minister to answer this question because we believe that the media is the fourth pillar of democracy. And so when an attempt is made to gag the media, it is a matter of concern for all Indians.”

Mr. Rudy said the BJP would like to know from Mr. Tharoor whether the Indian media misrepresented him when he called the people cattle class, or when he was staying in a star hotel on government money. Was the media irresponsible when it questioned his statement that terrorists did not need visa to come to this country? “The BJP would also like to know from Mr. Tharoor whether the media was wrong when he, on the day of Gandhi Jayanti, a national holiday, said the people of India celebrated the day instead of working.”

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