Rahul Gandhi to meet envoys of major countries tomorrow

New Delhi: Just months ahead of the Lok Sabha elections, Congress President Rahul Gandhi will meet envoys of major countries and groupings here tomorrow, a move which may be seen as positioning himself as a prospective prime ministerial candidate.

Gandhi will meet the envoys at a lunch hosted by Congress leader and former Minister Anand Sharma at a five-star hotel, sources said on Thursday.

The luncheon meeting is for envoys of G-20 countries and some other groupings of various nations, the sources said.

The development assumes significance as it comes just ahead of the General elections and may be seen as Gandhi positioning himself as a prime ministerial candidate, even though he has not been projected, either by his party or the proposed Opposition alliance, as one.

Interestingly, in 2013, more than a year ahead of the last Lok Sabha elections, the then Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi also had such a reachout to the European Ambassadors at a lunch hosted by the German Ambassador.

Modi was declared as the BJP’s Campaign Committee chief, a de facto Prime Ministerial candidate, in May 2013.

Significant among the envoys who have confirmed their participation tomorrow is the Ambassador of France Alexandre Ziegler, considering Gandhi’s sustained attack over the inter-governmental agreement between India and France for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter planes.

The Congress President has been alleging a scam in the deal and has questioned various aspects involved in it, including the issue of France not giving sovereign guarantees.

In July last year, Gandhi had even sought to drag the French government in the controversy, claiming that French President had “personally” told him that there was no ‘secrecy pact’ involved in the deal.
He had stated this to allege that Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had lied over the issue.
Subsequently, the French government had issued a statement to deny his claim.

“We have noted the statement of Mr Rahul Gandhi before the Indian Parliament… France and India concluded in 2008 a Security agreement, which legally binds the two States to protect the classified information provided by the partner that could impact security and operational capabilities of the defence equipment of India or France,” the statement said.

“These provisions naturally apply to the IGA concluded on 23 September 2016 on the acquisition of 36 Rafale aircraft and their weapons,” the statement had added.

Chinese Ambassador Luo Zhaohui too has confirmed his participation at the lunch, the source said.
Gandhi had earlier landed in a major controversy when he met the Chinese Ambassador during the height of stand-off between Indian and Chinese troops in Doklam in 2017.

Pakistan envoy has not been invited as his country is not a part of G-20, the sources said.