Tharoor’s remarks at Lahore event trigger war of words between Congress and BJP

The Congress MP was answering questions on Modi government’s handling of COVID-19.
Shashi Tharoor
Shashi Tharoor
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Congress Member of Parliament (MP) Shashi Tharoor’s remarks about Indian government’s handling of COVID-19 for a Lahore event has triggered a war of words between members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and the Opposition Congress. The ruling party said he was ‘demeaning and discrediting’ India and asked if Rahul Gandhi – former Opposition Leader and Prime Ministerial candidate – wanted to contest elections in Pakistan.

Hitting back, the Opposition party said the BJP has always responded to substance and facts with "jumlebaazi" (rhetoric).

The BJP attacked Tharoor after he posted a link to the comments made online at Lahore Think Fest, which his office said was held last month, in which he criticised the Modi government's handling of the coronavirus and also spoke of alleged "bigotry and prejudice" against Muslims during the pandemic.

BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra told reporters that it was "unbelievable" that a senior Congress leader and an MP like Tharoor can make such comments at a Pakistani forum.

"He has demeaned India and projected the country in dim light," Patra said.

Referring to Tharoor's remarks that Rahul Gandhi had warned about the severity of the COVID-19 as early as in February and that he should be getting credit for it, Patra claimed that the Kerala MP was a close friend of the former Congress president and wondered if Gandhi wanted to get credit in Pakistan and contest polls there.

He is already a "hero" in China and Pakistan, Patra alleged.

At a press conference, Congress spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi said such reactions from the ruling party "ridicule" the debate and "diminish us as a democracy".

"The BJP has always responded to substance and pointed facts with 'jumlebaazi'. The BJP has always believed in rhetoric, not substance.

"Yes, it does sometimes catch you by the eyeballs or the ear buds when you hear it, but, within seconds, logic takes over and tells you how empty a rhetoric the BJP is indulging in," he said.

"All that is being done is to point out that you are far stronger, far bigger, far more capable country, and yet you should not be lagging behind in this parameter," the Congress spokesperson added.

Patra referred to various remarks made by Congress leaders in the past that allegedly targeted the Modi government at events in Pakistan and asked if the Opposition party members have ever asked Pakistan at its forum about its "bigotry and violence" against minorities in that country.

In a swipe at Gandhi, Patra said he and the BJP will now call him "Rahul Lahori".

Singhvi, in his reaction, also noted the recent debate about the possibility of Bangladesh taking over India in terms of per capita GDP and asked if the right response to it is that he should stand for elections from Dhaka and not be in the Indian Parliament.

"These responses might have short-lived, few seconds of utility but they actually show the hollowness of your intellectual ability to deal in areas where you are a complete failure," he said, targeting the BJP.

In the event, Tharoor was asked by a Pakistani journalist as to how the political fortune of the Indian government was impacted by the rising COVID-19 numbers.

He said it was paradoxical as the government was "not doing well" in dealing with the pandemic and people realise that, but polls suggest that it has not hurt the BJP politically as it should.

"So we in the Opposition do point out, for example, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi had mentioned as early as February that COVID had to be taken more seriously than the government was taking it and preventive measures needed to be put in place immediately otherwise we would face both a health disaster and an economic catastrophe if this was allowed to run unchecked.

"So he ought to be getting credit for having signalled this early on...," Tharoor said.

He also said there was a contrast between the way the COVID numbers have worked out in the two countries, India and Pakistan, but the fate of the leadership has not gone in the same contrasting way.

"Both seem to be doing rather well in the public eye, which, to some of us in the Opposition in India, is still a bit of a mystery, but we don't discuss that outside India. We fight our battles at home," he said.

(With PTI input)

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