After Kapil Sibal's comments, Anand Sharma veers off Congress script

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New Delhi: Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma on Tuesday described India’s decision of not joining the Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) as “unfortunate and ill advised”, asserting that it was in the country’s strategic and economic interests to be a part of the process of Asia-Pacific integration.

His remarks assume significance as last year after India had decided not to join the RCEP, the Congress had claimed victory, saying its forceful opposition ensured that the BJP government backs out from bartering the interests of farmers, dairy producers, fishermen and small and medium businessmen.

“India's decision of not joining Regional Comprehensive Economic Partnership (RCEP) is unfortunate and ill advised. It is in India’s strategic and economic interests to be a part of the process of Asia-Pacific integration,” Sharma said.

"Withdrawal has negated years of persuasive negotiations for India to be accepted as part of RCEP," he said.

"We could have negotiated safeguards to protect our interests. Keeping out of the RCEP is a backward leap," said Sharma, who had been closely involved in RCEP negotiations in his capacity as the commerce and industry minister in the UPA government led by Manmohan Singh. On November 4 last year, India walked out of mega free trade agreement RCEP as negotiations failed to address New Delhi's outstanding issues and concerns. The remaining 15 member countries have signed RCEP agreement and have stated that the pact would remain open to India. Former finance minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram also aired his views on India not joining RCEP on Tuesday, but said he would give a final view only when his party has taken a considered position on the issue.

“My guarded tweet yesterday on India not being member of RCEP has been noticed by many. Every English language newspaper that I read has carried an editorial today that India would be better off by being a part of RCEP,” he tweeted.

“I would reserve a final view until the Congress party has taken a considered position on the issue,” Chidambaram said.

‘Doubting Thomases’

Amid questions being raised by some in Congress over its Bihar poll performance, senior leader Salman Khurshid on Tuesday took a dig at such party colleagues calling them "doubting Thomases" who suffer periodic "pangs of anxiety".

In a Facebook post that started with an Urdu couplet of Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar, former union minister Khurshid, who is among the leaders considered close to the Gandhi family, said if the mood of the electorate is resistant to the liberal values the party has espoused and cherished, it should be prepared for a long struggle rather than look for short cuts to get back into power.

Citing the last Mughal ruler's couplet which talks about looking within for flaws that would make one not see others as flawed (...padi apni buraiyon par jo nazar to nigah mein koi bura na raha), he said Bahadur Shah Zafar’s words might be a useful companion for many of our party colleagues who suffer “periodic pangs of anxiety”.

Some senior Congress leaders including Kapil Sibal have called for introspection after the party's dismal performance in the recently held Bihar assembly polls, after which the ruling NDA returned to power in the state despite the main member of the grand opposition alliance, Rashtriya Janata Dal, putting up a strong show and emerging as the single largest party.

Quite a few leaders from the RJD as well as the Congress have blamed the grand old party's below-par performance for the opposition alliance missing the majority mark in the Bihar assembly elections.

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