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‘Like Biden Interviewing an Indian Diplomat’: Analysts Think Rahul Gandhi Erred in Picking Nicholas Burns

Congress leader Rahul Gandhi and Nicholas Burns, former diplomat and professor of diplomatic studies at Harvard University.

A senior diplomat says Nicholas Burns is too junior an official in the state department for a “future Indian PM aspirant” to interview on a public platform.

  • CNN-News18 New Delhi
  • Last Updated: June 12, 2020, 3:56 PM IST

In his ongoing series of Covid conversations, Congress leader Rahul Gandhi on Friday chose Nicholas Burns, former diplomat and professor of diplomatic studies at Harvard University. Burns has also served as the Under Secretary of State for Political Affairs during US President George W Bush’s term. A Donald Trump critic, Burns was a strong supporter of Hillary Clinton in the 2016 presidential battle.

The choice of Burns has, however, stoked a controversy. A senior diplomat told News18 on condition of anonymity that “Burns is too junior an official in the state department for a future Indian PM aspirant to interview on a public plat form”.

The discussion between Gandhi and Burns focussed on Covid-19 and post-Covid diplomacy. But the chat began with the raging Black Lives Matter protests in the US triggered by the death of George Floyd who was pinned between the pavement and the knee of a policeman.

While Burns praised India for coexistence of different cultures and religions, Gandhi criticised the current politics in both the US and India for being less tolerant.

“When you divide African-Americans, Mexicans and other people in the US, divide Hindus, Muslims and Sikhs in India, you are weakening the structure of the country. But then, the same people say they are nationalists,” Gandhi said.

Gandhi also went on to stress the need for more diplomacy between India and US where both should join hands to come up with a vaccine for coronavirus.

But Gandhi’s chat with Burns has already grabbed eyeballs from the BJP and many experts who feel that this was not the right time for a discussion with Burns.

Taking potshots at the former Congress chief, BJP IT cell head Amit Malviya said, “Rahul Gandhi must be suffering from huge inferiority complex. Why else would he lean on a foreign voice and allow him to make an unsubstantiated comment on what is not even an issue here in India? Let us also not forget, this is a recorded and edited interaction. So, former Congress president consciously sought out someone who would denigrate India.”

“Besides, what is the locus standi of Nicholas Burns to comment on religious freedom anywhere given the checkered track record of his own country and the recent instances of racial and hate crimes against the coloured? Rahul Gandhi’s desperation to remain relevant is getting the better of him,” he added.

Political analyst Sanjaya Baru, who was also media advisor to former PM Manmohan Singh and who fell out with the Congress party, said, “This was not well-advised. It is like Joe Biden interviewing an Indian diplomat. This is what happens when a political leader depends more on Lutyens’ elite for ideas and advice rather than depend on traditional Congress grassroots.”

The Congress doesn’t agree. It seems the party stands for different shades of opinion and therefore a Nicholas Burns, who many found to be a wee bit anti-India during his tenure in the White House, should also be heard.

Rahul Gandhi’s interactions earlier with former RBI governor Raghuram Rajan or director of the Harvard Global Health Institute Ashish Jha had gained traction.

Gandhi as a journalist is an experiment he is working on even as he and the Congress complain that the media has stopped asking questions of the government.

But his latest interview is likely to grab eyeballs perhaps for all the wrong reasons. It is also making some Congress leaders uncomfortable that while the party is trying to fight the Hindutva image of the BJP by being one, comments like ‘Hindu-Muslim’ divide could harm this makeover the Congress is working at.

But then Rahul Gandhi has carved an independent style of politics for himself. This puts him at loggerheads with many in his party. But those who are close to Gandhi say he couldn’t care less.


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