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How Congress leader Salman Khurshid had to ‘pay a price’ for a hug from Vajpayee

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In 1994, Vajpayee-led team helped thwart UN resolution against India on Kashmir issue, recalls Salman Khurshid.

New Delhi: When India needed to speak in one voice on Kashmir to counter a Pakistani onslaught, Atal Bihari Vajpayee, then an opposition leader, provided it by leading an official delegation to the 1994 session of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights (UNCHR) and forcing the withdrawal of a resolution to censure India, said senior Congress leader Salman Khurshid.

A couple of hours after Vajpayee’s death Thursday evening, the Congress leader was nostalgic about his interaction with the former Prime Minister who, he said, would have “done something (in bringing peace with Pakistan) if God had given him better health for longer”.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi’s hug of Prime Minister Narendra Modi in the Lok Sabha might have become a political controversy, but Khurshid — who was deputy foreign minister at the time — had to pay a price for the warm hug he got from Vajpayee after their return from Geneva.

He recalled how the picture of Vajpayee embracing him made it to the cover of India Today and gave fodder to his detractors who used it to spread the word during the 1996 Lok Sabha elections that he had “a secret deal with the BJP”.

Also read: My friend Vajpayee: Humane, witty and a recluse

After the elections, when Khurshid had a chance meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee in Delhi, the latter asked him, “What have you done? Why are you not in Parliament?”

“All because of you, the embrace you gave me did the job,” Khurshid responded, drawing a hearty laugh from Vajpayee.

India’s triumph at UN

That diplomatic triumph in Geneva, long before India joined the big boys’ club in international diplomacy, had had the entire country in raptures and Vajpayee, Khurshid and other members of the delegation were treated like heroes on their return home. Pakistan had got the Organisation of Islamic Countries (IOC) to move a resolution at the Geneva session of the UNCHR to censure India for the alleged human rights violations in Kashmir.

If adopted, it would have been referred to the UN Security Council for economic sanctions against India. That would have delivered a big blow to India, especially when it was trying to deal with a huge economic crisis. If Pakistan had succeeded in internationalising the Kashmir issue as an unfinished agenda of Partition, the minority government led by P.V. Narasimha Rao would have been in trouble.

But Vajpayee responded to Rao’s proposal to head the Indian delegation to Geneva, which comprised Khurshid and Farooq Abdullah, among others. “We had to face an onslaught of a few countries that had come together with Pakistan to attack us on human rights,” Khurshid told ThePrint in an interview.

Also read: ‘Favourite politician of any political journalist’: Shekhar Gupta on his interactions with Vajpay

“That was an occasion when India’s voice had to be heard as one voice. (Nowadays) there is a lot of ‘one nation, one election talk’ but that (in 1994) was truly one voice of India where Vajpayee, the leader if the opposition, was chosen to lead the delegation to Geneva,” he said.

“There was no desperation in the opposition, at that time led by Vajpayee, to snatch power away from the party that ruled. There was a kind of attitude and atmosphere that worked towards people getting together,” Khurshid added.

‘It was easy to work with Vajpayee’

He said it was very easy to work together with Vajpayee. “We didn’t have to persuade each other. We didn’t have to argue. We were instinctively on one page and he (Vajpayee) was so wonderful.”

“He had that velvet touch that you need if you are a persuasive leader,” the Congress leader said.

Among other things, what clinched the Indian delegation success in Geneva was the support India got from Iran which ensured that there was no voting on the resolution on Kashmir at the UNCHR session. Rao was of course, doing the groundwork from Delhi as he sent his ailing foreign minister Dinesh Singh to Iran with a message.

Formula for Kashmir problem

Khurshid said that when Vajpayee led the delegation to Geneva, “he was just getting involved in the Kashmir issue. He was trying to get deeper into the psyche of Jammu & Kashmir.”

“So when he became Prime Minister, it blossomed into a larger vision that he had. ‘Jamhooriyat, insaniyat and Kashmiriyat’ became his standard motif in dealing with Jammu & Kashmir. Unfortunately, it didn’t get anywhere,” Khurshid recalled.

The Congress leader said that even if Vajpayee’s outreach to Pakistan didn’t succeed, “I commend and salute his courage for having tried”.

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