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Congress criticised for boycotting PM banquet for African leaders

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Extremely unfortunate, says Omar Abdullah

day after all four Congress leaders invited to the Prime Minister’s banquet for African leaders failed to attend it, the Opposition party came in for criticism from several quarters. Diplomats The Hindu spoke to said that it was unfortunate that the Opposition party was allowing “domestic policy” to overshadow the India Africa Forum Summit.

“This is a national event, and it shouldn’t matter which government is holding the banquet, they should all have attended,” said former Chief of Protocol and ORF fellow, Pinak Chakravarthy. Even former UPA ally and National Conference president Omar Abdullah tweeted his disapproval, writing, “Whatever the domestic political environment this boycott is extremely unfortunate.”

Adding to the criticism, BJP spokesperson M.J. Akbar called the non-attendance by the Congress “petty.” The leaders who were invited to PM Modi’s banquet were parliamentary leaders Mallikarjun Kharge, Ghulam Nabi Azad, P.J. Kurien and former PM Manmohan Singh.

Senior Congress officials said they decided not to attend to “protest the insult to PM Nehru” by the government. A senior leader quoted by PTI said that the lack of reference to Mr. Nehru who was “the architect of India-Africa relations” was a deliberate attempt by the Modi government to appropriate the India-Africa summit as its own “original idea.”

Without calling it a boycott, senior Congress leader Manish Tiwari told reporters that the Congress had a predominant role in India-Africa ties since pre-Independence and accused the BJP of “deviating from these realities.” “So we decided to let them have their own little gig,” he added.

Significantly, the only reference to the Congress’ role came from African Union chairperson and Zimbabwe President Robert Mugabe, who spoke of the “large role” of Mahatma Gandhi and the INC in African anti-colonial struggles.

No clarity

Meanwhile, confusion prevailed within the Congress itself over whether there was a boycott, and whether it extended to both banquets thrown by PM Modi on October 28 and President Mukherjee on October 29. When contacted, Dr. Manmohan Singh's office said that he was staying away due to “personal not political” reasons. Sources say Dr. Singh has been pre-occupied as his brother-in-law is extremely unwell, and had regretted both the PM and President’s banquet in advance.

Former External Affairs Minister Salman Khurshid said he had not heard of any party decision in the matter. “I couldn’t go because I had committed to giving a speech at a Rotary Club function. Others may have similar pre-occupations. While this may give an impression that there is a boycott, but that’s not true,” he told The Hindu.

On Thursday, Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge and former Commerce Minister Anand Sharma attended the President’s banquet, leading to speculation that the Congress’ refusal to attend the PM’s banquet was due to the fact that Ms. Gandhi had not been invited. “All protocol was followed, no family can be above protocol,” said Mr. Akbar.

‘We were not consulted’

Mr. Sharma, who was the former government’s envoy to several African nations categorically denied there was any “boycott”, and denied the accusation on Ms. Gandhi’s participation. However, he said that he was “disappointed” by the government’s decision not to consult the Congress on the summit despite the fact that the summit had been originally started by the UPA government. “Even the decision to bring all African leaders to participate smacks of condescension, not power,” Mr. Sharma said to a question whether this was not a more successful conference with 40 leaders attending as opposed to 15 leaders in the previous summits. “This was the agreement we had when we set up the IAFS, to invite only the leaders of a few countries that the AU decided on, the Chairperson of the African Union committee, not all 54 leaders,” he told The Hindu.

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Printable version | Jan 23, 2020 10:25:08 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/congress-criticised-for-boycotting-pm-banquet-for-african-leaders/article7819016.ece

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