In what was seen as a New Year initiative by him to break bread and ice with the Opposition, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday held a luncheon meeting with top BJP leaders led by AB Vajpayee, LK Advani and Jaswant Singh.
The subject was India’s foreign policy - a subject that has seen the government and the Opposition sharply differ over the last year on a number of issues, ranging from the Indo-US civilian nuclear agreement to New Delhi’s response to Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf’s four-point proposal to resolve the Jammu and Kashmir dispute.
The PM was assisted by External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee, Foreign Secretary Shivshanker Menon and National Security Adviser (NSA) MK Narayanan in the discussion held at his official residence, for which former NSA Brajesh Mishra was also invited.
The PM’s initiative came after his pleasant surprise to Vajpayee on December 25 when he went to greet him on his 83rd birthday.
Tuesday’s exercise was interpreted by officials as not only a continuation of the PM’s efforts for a personal interaction with Opposition leaders but also a fresh bid to restore the consensus on foreign policy matters - by clearing "misunderstandings and misapprehensions" in their minds.
Significantly, both sides agreed that the dialogue should continue. It was left to the government to issue a press release while the BJP brass refrained from giving any separate version of the discussion.
An official release later said the PM invited the BJP leaders to lunch and "External Affairs Minister Pranab Mukherjee briefed them on the situation in India’s neighbourhood and India’s relations with Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka."
A BJP leader said Vajpayee and other leaders had taken the opportunity to convey to the PM on what they felt on key foreign policy issues. They would now wait to see how the government went about the issues, particularly the nuclear deal and the Indo-Pak ties.
The release made no mention of the Indo-US civilian nuclear deal though the government is preparing for negotiating the "123" agreement to give effect to the pact.
Also, Mukherjee is due to travel to Islamabad on January 13. In first engagement with Pakistani leaders as Foreign Minister, Mukherjee will call on Musharraf and his Pakistani counterpart Khurshid Mohammed Kasuri to invite them to attend the SAARC summit in New Delhi in April.