Given the sticky relation with Pakistan, every development needs careful handling. But it certainly seems that the two ministries have their own approaches, and are not particularly interested in sharing these with each other.
When you can’t convince them, confuse them. That is the takeaway from Home Minister Rajnath Singh’s recent visit to Islamabad to attend a SAARC multilateral meeting of home ministers. Only, the confusion is home grown, as two important ministries—home and external affairs—pass the buck.
The media entourage that accompanied Singh was not allowed entry to the SAARC session, neither was Singh’s speech broadcast by the Pakistani media. This development snowballed into a controversy with reports that Pakistan media was blanking out India. MEA spokesperson Vikas Swarup rushed to justify that according to the SAARC protocol, only the inaugural speech is broadcast, not the other sessions, which are closed door ones. This would have been the same process if India had hosted the event.
Meanwhile Singh himself, in Parliament, said that the Doordarshan, ANI and PTI teams were not allowed entry to the venue. “I was giving my speech. I did not see whether it was being telecast live or not.’’ He added that he had no clue about what the protocol of covering the event was. “whether the speech was covered, or whether there is no tradition of covering it, or whether it was a deliberate blackout, it is difficult to say at this moment…’’
He later said that he’d need to consult the MEA on the protocol regarding reporting the event, since he had no knowledge of it.
Swarup insisted that these statements were in tune with the MEA’s declaration of the protocol for covering the event. He was, however, unable to explain why a functionary as senior as home minister was not briefed about it, specially when he was accompanied by officials of the MEA. Also, why the media was not briefed in advance about what events it could cover and where it was allowed entry. These are standard operating procedures at all international events, when some sessions are open and others closed-door. Sharad Yadav had on Thursday said in the Rajya Sabha that MEA and MHA were not on the same page.
But while in a sense absolving Pakistan of that particular charge of blackout, Swarup added this rider: “The point at issue is that the media that accompanied the home minister was not in the room and a number of you (reporters) who had applied for visas did not get visas. Naturally this restrictive approach by Pakistan even for a multilateral event is not useful in promoting close ties between SAARC.’’ When asked to explain that if protocol didn’t allow it and why he called the move restrictive, Swarup said, “we are talking about the events on the sidelines of the meet.’’
It isn’t as if there were too many events on the sidelines. The lunch which was to be hosted by Pakistan’s home minister is another area of confusion. Singh left without attending of the lunch. This led to talk that he was peeved at the media blackout of his speech. MEA says that Singh had already intimated to all that his flight was scheduled for departure immediately after the meet. Was it not bad diplomacy to rush out so quickly, without even breaking bread with the host? India, of course, is absolved of answering this particular charge, given that the host himself was inexplicably absent from the lunch.
Pakistan is an important country both from the perspective of the home ministry as well as the external affairs. Given the sticky relation with this particular neighbour, every development needs careful handling. But it certainly seems that the two ministries have their own approaches, and are not particularly interested in sharing these with each other.