Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s bold new initiative towards Pakistan looks set to crash even before it has taken off.
A week after, Singh and his Pakistani counterpart Yousuf Raza Gilani agreed upon a joint statement which sought to delink terrorism from the composite dialogue between the two countries, his own party and other members of his government are questioning the sagacity of the step.
Opposition members had already castigated the joint statement earlier, claiming it was a sellout.
On Thursday, the Congress party simply refused to discuss the subject. “Go and ask the government,” said spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi.
The government was just as ambiguous.
“The joint statement is a diplomatic paper that is given to the press,” said Shashi Tharoor, minister of state for external affairs. “It is not a legal paper. Ultimately what matters is not the perception of the words on paper, but the conduct of the government.”
“The joint statement is not legally binding,” said Shivshanker Menon, foreign secretary, while speaking to officers at the National Defence College.
“We have said that India cannot go for a composite dialogue with Pakistan, until and unless we have absolute assurances and we have seen credible action from Pakistan,” Tharoor added.
In Parliament, most of the Congress members maintained a studied silence when the opposition attacked the joint statement.
They are said to be particularly upset over the reference to Balochistan in it.
Sonia Gandhi has been consulting party leaders on dealing with the issue. Singh is believed to have explained the joint statement to her.
In sharp contrast to the current silence, the party and president Sonia Gandhi had backed the prime minister with full force when he decided to proceed with civil nuclear deal with the US in early 2008. This time, the party is more anxious to insulate itself from adverse public reaction ahead of an election season. Three states including Maharashtra will go to elections in a few months.
“It’s all very well for the people to say that somehow India’s interest compromised by few words on a piece of paper that is not a legal document. It is a diplomatic paper that is released to the press - different from the legal papers,” said Tharoor.