The Government on Monday rejected the BJP-Shiv Sena's demand and ruled out an apology by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh in Parliament and outside over his reported remarks that Muslims have the first claim on the country's resources.
Relations between the Government and the main Opposition nose-dived as the BJP-Shiv Sena demanded an apology from the PM, sought suspension of Question Hour, raised slogans and created a furore in the Lok Sabha and Rajya Sabha so that the two Houses were repeatedly adjourned, the final adjournment coming at 2 pm.
The Opposition charged the PM of indulging in vote bank politics — an insinuation the Congress hurled back at the BJP-Shiv Sena.
"The PM will not apologise in Parliament or outside because what he said was a collective reflection of ground reality. What he said also reflected the UPA's views," said Parliamentary Affairs Minister PR Dasmunsi.
The Minister — who accused the BJP of politicising the issue ahead of the Uttar Pradesh assembly polls — saw no reason for an apology as Singh's statement was "torn out of context and misrepresented."
Dasmunsi quoted from the PM's address at the National Development Council (NDC) meeting on Saturday in which he had talked of equitable distribution of resources among the scheduled castes, scheduled tribes, other backward classes and minorities, particularly Muslims.
"What crime has the PM committed by saying this? It is not the PM but the BJP that should apologise because of its repeated attempts to communalise polity and divide society. And if Leader of Opposition LK Advani thinks he can become the PM by raising this bogey, he is living in a fool's paradise," alleged Dasmunsi, as he tried to widen the chasm in the BJP leadership by recalling that Advani's earlier effort to exploit the Babri Masjid issue saw AB Vajpayee becoming PM. He also recalled that Vajpayee had dubbed the Gujarat riots as a "blot" on the NDA's face.
Dasmunsi also tried to divide the NDA on the issue by trying to reach out to parties like the JD (U) and the BJD which are uneasy about Advani's move to disrupt Parliament on, what the Government claims, is a "non-issue".
Planning Commission deputy chairman Montek Singh Ahluwalia also felt that the controversy over the PM's speech at the NDC was uncalled for. "It has been unfortunately politicised and misrepresented. There is nothing in it to cause a furore," he said.
He said that the PM, while outlining priorities for the XIth Plan, talked of giving a thrust to agriculture, water resources and critical infrastructure in rural areas. In this context, he stressed the need to devise plans to uplift SCs, STs, OBCs and minorities, specially Muslims so that there is inclusive growth and equitable sharing of resources.
Ahluwalia rejected the attempt to bracket Singh with MA Jinnah and pointed that the Sachar committee report revealed the disturbing picture that the Muslim community did not have an equitable share in the fruits of development.
He rejected that the 11th Plan Approach paper was being made on communal grounds, but emphasized that an economic agenda, which is not part of political agenda, is not worth discussing.
There is no word whether the BJP-Shiv Sena's campaign on the PM's remarks would figure in UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi's meeting with UPA floor leaders on Tuesday. But a section in the Congress believes that a "clarification" on the PM's speech was not warranted. Also, the Opposition, which politicised his speech is now trying to politicise the clarification to polarise voters in UP. The Congress' fear is that while this may improve its image among the minorities, it would also paint the party as "anti-Hindu".