Defence minister Rajnath Singh on Friday held an “informal” interaction with Congress leader AK Antony and Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar on the border situation with China and Pakistan, and also the current scenario in Afghanistan.
The Union minister, HT has learnt, invited the two former defence ministers to South Block where the meeting lasted at least 75 minutes. The meeting was also attended by Chief of Defence Staff Gen Bipin Rawat and Army Chief Gen MM Naravane.
“There was nothing political about it, it was all very informal,” a person familiar with the developments said on condition of anonymity.
There was no formal statement on the meeting from either side.
While Antony served as defence minister in the Congress-led UPA government from 2006 till 2014, Pawar held the post in the Narasimha Rao government from 1991 to 1993.
The meeting took place ahead of the monsoon session of Parliament which is slated to begin from July 19.
The Congress is planning to corner the government over the border row with China in the House.
The standoff at multiple friction points in eastern Ladakh began in early May last year. Both the Indian Army and Chinese People’s Liberation Army (PLA) have held 11 rounds of talks through corps commander-ranked officers since June 6, 2020, to reduce tensions along the Line of Actual Control.
The Opposition has been confrontational with the government on the issue with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi raising the matter at the all party meet ahead of the monsoon session last year.
“The CDS and COAS did a briefing on both Pakistan and China. The two former ministers had questions that were clarified. The government put its point of view forward,” the person cited above said.
HT has learnt that while talks on the Afghanistan situation were not a part of the agenda, it did feature in the meeting in the wake of the killing of an Indian photojournalist while covering the region’s escalating conflict with the Taliban in Kandahar on Friday.
When asked if there were any differences of opinion, the person cited above said: “It was an exchange of views and friendly in nature.”
There was no response from the offices of either the current or the former defence ministers. A Congress leader, however, said that this was an old tradition that was prevalent during the Vajpayee regime.
“This is a welcome step… for the minister to meet his predecessors, at a time when national security issues almost never get discussed in Parliament. Covid has taken its toll too with Parliament being in stasis. One presumes that the defence minister will apprise former ministers like Mr Antony and Sharad Pawar and Mulayam Singh et al about the current challenges, especially on Ladakh and China. It would be desirable if Arun Singh joins, he is the minister archivist for the MoD,” Uday Bhaskar, former director of IDSA, said.