New Delhi: A huge row broke out on Monday over Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s insinuation that Manmohan Singh was colluding with Pakistan in the Gujarat polls, with the former premier saying he was setting a “dangerous precedent” and asking for an apology.
As Singh, 85, crossed swords with Modi over his “ill-thought transgression” and rejected his charge as “innuendos and falsehoods”, Congress senior spokesperson Anand Sharma accused the prime minister of dragging the political discourse to an “unacceptable low” by making statements that harmed the dignity of his post. Sharma also demanded an apology from Modi.
Modi had claimed that some Pakistani officials and Singh met at Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house over dinner on December 6. This was a day before Aiyar’s “neech” [low] jibe against Modi that led to his suspension from the party.
Singh asserted that the Gujarat polls were never raised by anyone present at the dinner and the discussion was confined to India-Pakistan relations.
Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram wondered whether winning an election was so important that such allegations can be made against a former prime minister and a former vice-president.
Addressing an election rally in Palanpur in Gujarat yesterday, Modi sought to suggest that Pakistan was trying to influence the assembly polls in the state. The second and final phase of Assembly polls in Gujarat is to be held on December 14.
Singh issued a statement on Monday, listing those who attended the dinner hosted in honour of the visiting former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.
He said besides himself and former vice-president Hamid Ansari, others present at Aiyar’s dinner hosted for Kasuri, were the Pakistan High Commissioner, Natwar Singh, K.S. Bajpai, Ajai Shukla, Sharad Sabharwal, Gen Deepak Kapoor, T.C.A. Raghavan, Satinder K. Lambah, M. K. Bhadrakumar, C.R. Gharekhan, Prem Shankar Jha, Salman Haider and Rahul Khushwant Singh.
“None of them could be accused of indulging in any anti-national activities,” he said. Lambah, a former diplomat, was quoted as having said he does not comment on private dinners. He, however, said there was just a general discussion on Indo-Pak relations.
Gharekhan, another former diplomat, said the invitees were talking about the relations between India and Pakistan. “But nobody, if I recall I am hundred per cent sure that, not a single person, talked about Gujarat elections or anything about the present situation. or for that matter, the present situation in Pakistan,” he told NDTV.
“It was only about India-Pakistan relation[s], We didn’t talk about any kind of politics.”
General Kapoor, a former Army Chief, was quoted as having said Gujarat elections were never discussed at the dinner meeting. In a strongly-worded statement, Singh said: “I sincerely hope that Prime Minister will show the maturity and gravitas expected of the high office he holds instead of concentrating his energy solely on erroneously conceived brownie points.
“I sincerely hope that he will apologise to the Nation for his ill thought transgression to restore the dignity of the office he occupies,” he said.
Singh said he was “deeply pained and anguished” by the “falsehood and canards” being spread to score political points by the prime minister in what he said was a “lost cause” in Gujarat.
“Fearing imminent defeat in Gujarat, desperation of Prime Minister to hurl every abuse and latch on to every straw is palpable. Sadly and regrettably, Sh. Modi is setting a dangerous precedent by his insatiable desire to tarnish every constitutional office, including that of a former Prime Minister and Army Chief,” he alleged.
The Congress Party, Singh said, needs no sermons on “nationalism” from a party and prime minister, whose “compromised” track record on fighting terrorism is well known, while reminding Modi of his “uninvited” visit to Pakistan after terrorist attacks in Udhampur and Gurdaspur.
“Let him also tell the country the reason for inviting the infamous ISI of Pakistan to our strategic Airbase in Pathankot to investigate a terror attack that emanated from Pakistan,” he said.
Claiming that his track record of public service to the country over the last five decades is known to all, he said no one, including Modi, can “lamely question it to gain lost political ground”.
Anand Sharma alleged that Modi was “frustrated” as he had sensed a clear defeat of the BJP in Gujarat and was resorting to use of foul language in his bid to whip up emotions and polarise Gujarat.
“There cannot be anything more as explanation and there cannot be anything more reprehensible than what he has done,” he alleged.
“The prime minister should restore the dignity of the political discourse, withdraw what he has said and apologise to the former prime minister and the former vice president,” Sharma told reporters in Delhi.