Government mustn't adopt 'touch-me-not' attitude: Salman Khurshid after India slams Germany's criticism

In the backdrop of India slamming Germany's criticism over fact-checker Mohammed Zubair's case, Salman Khurshid on Sunday said the government must ensure that there is no reason for an adverse opinion

Senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid (File photo)
Senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid (File photo)


In the backdrop of India slamming Germany's criticism over fact-checker Mohammed Zubair's case, former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid on Sunday said the government must ensure that there is no reason for an adverse opinion and "show the best side of us" rather than adopting a "touch-me-not" attitude.

The senior Congress leader alleged that the government has been "truant" in ensuring that the law of the land is applied without fear or favour, and asked why Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is "fond of speaking on everything", does not talk about unity and on "how do we come together again".

"If he was a silent PM that would be another matter but he is not a silent PM, he speaks, so why does he not speak on this. Why does he not say 'let us come together, this country cannot succeed if we remain divided'," Khurshid told PTI in an interview.

Asked about Opposition unity and the way ahead for it on the road to 2024 general elections, he said the Opposition parties are up against a "very clever adversary" and if they don't act quickly enough they will lose the advantage.

Khurshid said a common platform to save this country is imperative and asserted that "history will not forgive those who fail to do that".

On the issue of the arrest of Zubair and dissent being allegedly stifled, he said it is becoming more and more difficult to be able to speak freely because the consequences for it are fairly "foreboding".

"You don't get bail immediately, if everyone has to go to the Supreme Court that is a worrisome thing," he said.

Asked about Germany's criticism of Zubair's arrest and whether action such as that against the fact-checker or activist Teesta Setalvad was undermining India's position abroad, Khurshid said when India gets appreciation from the world it is applauded and welcomed but if the world has issues which are negative about "us then we get very touchy".

"The normal reaction is that 'don't interfere in our internal matters'. This in all fairness I must say, I have been in government, and in government we have taken this view that we don't want the world to be interfering in our matters," he said.

"But the fact is that the world is changing, we have an opinion about what is happening in other countries, they have an opinion about what is happening in our country. If we don't want an adverse opinion we must show the best side of us. We must ensure that there is no reason for an adverse opinion," said Khurshid who was the external affairs minister from October 2012-May 2014.

He said the government should concentrate on that rather than adopting a "touch-me-not" kind of attitude and complain about people saying something.

"You live in a world, you have to live by the terms of the world to which you yourself contribute and if something terrible happens somewhere we have just as much right to say that this is wrong," Khurshid said.

Did India not for instance say that what happened in Bucha (Ukraine) was wrong and that there should be a proper inquiry, the Congress leader asked.

Russia could have complained and said this is their military operation and India is interfering with it, he said.

"You don't live alone, you live in a collective world and in a collective world you will have to be sensitive about how other people look at your performance," Khurshid said.

He, however, added that there should not be overt interference in internal matters and that is a principle India should continue to uphold.

"But, I think there are certain limits within which we have to be sensitive to the world's opinion," Khurshid said.

His remarks come days after India trashed Germany's criticism over fact-checker Zubair's arrest, saying the independence of the country's judiciary is well recognised and that "uninformed" comments are "unhelpful" and should be avoided.

The comments by External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Arindam Bagchi had come after a German foreign ministry official said journalists should not be "persecuted and imprisoned" for what they say and write while referring to police action against Zubair. The UN human rights office had also expressed concern over Zubair's arrest.

The Supreme Court on Friday had granted five-day interim bail to Zubair in connection with an FIR lodged against him in Uttar Pradesh's Sitapur for allegedly outraging religious sentiments.

Khurshid also slammed the government for failing to protect rights of its own citizens, saying the government has been "truant" in ensuring that the law of the land is applied without fear or favour.

Asked about whether the backlash in Gulf over suspended BJP leader Nupur Sharma's remarks on Prophet Mohammad started the trend of negative reactions from abroad, the Congress leader said, "You call it a backlash or you call it a reaction you can't avoid it indefinitely, sooner or later even your friends get embarrassed and they have to stand up because they have their own local domestic constituencies to satisfy."

They can't just put a mask on their eyes and say we can't see what is happening because they are also answerable, he said, adding that beyond a point people will speak up.

Referring to the adverse reactions in Gulf countries after Sharma's comments, Khurshid said it was a very special case because what was said directly affected people in those countries in terms of their religion.

"So it wasn't something they were interfering in which had to do with India, it was something that they felt had something to do with them and they reacted," he said.

He said the government's reaction should have come in the first place to what was felt by its own citizens.

"Whether we responded because something happened in the Arab world is of no concern as far as I am concerned. What is important is that we should have responded in a timely manner to the concerns of our own citizens," he asserted.

"It is not just responding to Muslims alone, we must respond to Hindus, Sikhs, Christians. Whenever something like this happens, we must respond irrespective of what the religion is. Why should you wait for someone somewhere else to tell you to respond," he added.

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