Rahul in London.

Rahul not 1st neta whose remarks abroad sparked row back home

There’s Indira, Morarji & even Modi to have spoken ill on foreign trips

Prashun Bhaumik | New Delhi | 16 March, 2023 | 11:00 PM

While Rahul's UK statements are being debated in Parliament, Congress has put out list of Modi's speeches which it claims showed India in bad light.

Rahul Gandhi’s comments aren’t the first by an Indian politician abroad that have created controversy back home. As the BJP demanded Rahul to apologise for ‘discrediting’ India in the UK, the Congress pointed to statements by Prime Minister Narendra Modi on foreign soil that, it said, also shows the country in bad light.

This battle over purported denigration of India on foreign soil is not new. At a press conference in London, Rahul was told by senior journalist Suresh Gupta, that when his grandmother Indira Gandhi had come to the UK after being released from jail in 1978, she “refused to say anything negative about India”, when asked about Morarji Desai’s role in her arrest.

Indira, at the time, was in the opposition. However, the insinuation that she refused to speak ill of Desai in the UK is not entirely true, as press reports from the time show.

Desai, on his part, caused a furore when he called the nuclear test by the previous Congress dispensation a “wrong” move in his conversation with US President Jimmy Carter.

More recently in history, Congress MP and general secretary Jairam Ramesh, who is leading the party’s communication strategy against the BJP attacks, had landed in a soup when he made a comment in Beijing in 2010 when he was the Union environment minister.

ThePrint looks at some of these statements by different politicians abroad, starting with those made by Modi.

Narendra Modi

On Tuesday, as another day of Parliament session was washed out, the Congress released a list of five instances when the PM “embarrassed” India.

One of the speeches it referred to was that during the PM’s visit to South Korea, as a part of a three-nation tour in May 2015 when he addressed the Indian diaspora in Seoul.

At the event, Modi said that it was earlier believed that being born in India was a punishment for sins committed in one’s past life. “In the last one year, people’s perception of India has changed. There was a time people used to leave India thinking that the country was no good,” he said.

In a later part of the speech, Modi said: “There was a time when people used to think that what sin they committed in the last life that they were born in India. Is this a country? Is this a government? Who are these people? They would leave. We would see people from the industrial world saying that they did not want to do business in India. We don’t want to live. In fact, most people had one foot out (of India).”

In Toronto, as a part of the same tri-nation tour in April 2015, Modi said that India was not “Scam India” anymore, but “Skill India”, the latter being one of his government’s flagship skill development initiatives.

“Jinko gandagi karni thi, woh gandagi kar ke chaley gaye, par hum safai karenge (Those who had to create a mess, they have done so and left. We will clean it up),” he said.

Similarly, in June 2018 in Doha, Modi said, in a veiled reference to the Congress, that corruption is a “termite” that had “hollowed” India.

“Corruption has made our country hollow, eating into its vitals like termite. Today across the world, India’s image has been enhanced and the country is being viewed respectably. Everyone is attracted to India. You would have noticed the change when people from other countries meet Indians,” he said.

Last year too, during a visit to Berlin, Modi stated that India had three decades of political instability before his government came to power.

“I want to talk to you about the capabilities of crores of Indians and sing their praises. When I speak about crores of Indians, it includes not only the people who live there but also those who live here. The people of India ended the politically unstable atmosphere of the last three decades by pressing a button. After 30 years, a full majority government was elected in 2014 and the people of India made the government stronger in 2019,” he said.

Jairam Ramesh

On an official tour to China in May 2010, the then minister of state for environment and forest Jairam Ramesh was asked whether India will draw on Chinese expertise to implement hydrological projects in Arunachal Pradesh.

“India has drawn up an ambitious programme of hydrological projects in Arunachal Pradesh, but it does not have the kind of experience that China has gained in constructing the massive Three Gorges Dam. Our ability to handle vast hydel projects is much less compared to China,” Jairam said.

More controversy followed when he criticised the home ministry’s “alarmist” and “paranoid” policies towards Chinese telecom firms like Huawei.

It was reported at the time that Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Delhi was “stunned” by Ramesh’s comments. Amidst political backlash at home, the PM dialled Jairam and pulled him up for his comments. Singh reportedly told his minister that he cannot make comments on the functioning of ministries outside his domain, that too on foreign soil.

Indira Gandhi

A Washington Post article from November 1978, describes Indira Gandhi’s visit to the UK — the one after her release from arrest that senior journalist Suresh Gupta was talking about — as a “dispute-filled trip”. The visit saw her being called out as “Nazi” and “dictator” due to her role in imposing a 21-month long Emergency that began in 1975.

“Gandhi was at times defiant and at times defensive, but throughout her stay she served notice that she intends to give Prime Minister Morarji Desai no quarter,” read the article.

Asked about the Emergency at a press conference, Indira said that “far more people have lost their lives, property and jobs since the new (Morarji Desai) government took over”.

At that time, the ruling Janata Party accused Indira of doing propaganda on the trip as it came in the backdrop of her famous win from the Chikmagalur Lok Sabha bypoll.

She also said during that trip that the Janata Party had put back her 20-point plan to help the poorest of the poor. “… the Janata Party has put things into reverse in the past two years. Some of the things that have been going on are truly horrible, just horrifying,”
she said.

A India Today report from the visit, claims that Indira launched a “ferocious attack on the Janata Government” and even criticised the western media’s coverage of her and her family. “They’ve always been against me,” she announced, said the report. “Not only against me but my father and Gandhiji in the past.”

On another occasion, she told a reporter: “Now that fox-baiting is out of fashion in this country, they’ve discovered another game: Indira baiting.”

Morarji Desai

During a tour of the US in 1978, barely a year after being elected as prime minister, Morarji Desai reportedly told then US President Jimmy Carter that the 1974 Pokhran nuclear test was “basically wrong”.

The episode was revealed in a record of a conversation — declassified later — between Desai and American ambassador Robert Goheen on 27 May 1977.

“Mrs Gandhi had been basically wrong but Desai did not want to pass public criticism on her. The Prime Minister said there was no question of having another explosion. Even if it were proposed he would not do it — he would carefully consult people — he would consult the US,” the record states.

Courtesy ThePrint