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Manmohan Singh, Modi in row over remarks on Pakistan role in Gujarat polls

Former PM and Congress leader Manmohan Singh rejected as “innuendos and falsehoods” Narendra Modi’s comments that Pakistan was trying to influence the Gujarat assembly elections

assembly elections Updated: Dec 12, 2017 10:36 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Manmohan Singh,Narendra Modi,Gujarat elections
A file photo of Prime Minister Narendra Modi with his predecessor Manmohan Singh at Dusshera celebrations in New Delhi. On Monday, Singh said he was “deeply pained and anguished” by the “falsehood and canards” being spread to score political points by Modi.(HT)

Former prime minister Manmohan Singh sought an apology to the nation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi for insinuating that he, and other members of the Congress party, may have colluded with Pakistan; India’s neighbour called Modi’s allegations “baseless and irresponsible”; and BJP leaders saw Pakistan’s response as “suspicious” and asked why the Congress had taken 48 hours to admit to a meeting between Congress leaders and Pakistani officials including the high commissioner.

The back and forth over Pakistan started as a sideshow of the ongoing campaign ahead of the second phase of the elections to the Gujarat assembly on December 14, but soon grabbed centre stage.

On Sunday, Modi referred to a Facebook post by a former director general of the Pakistani army, Sardar Arshad Rafiq, saying Congress leader Ahmed Patel should be the next chief minister of the state, and to a meeting in Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence attended by Singh, the former vice president of India, Pakistan’s former foreign minister, and the country’s high commissioner to India. The prime minister said the meeting happened last week, a day before Aiyar called him “neech” (lowly). Aiyar has since apologised and also been suspended from the primary membership of the Congress.

On Monday, Singh, 85, said Modi’s claim was an “ill-thought transgression” and rejected his charge as “innuendos and falsehoods” . Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma accused the prime minister of dragging political discourse to an “unacceptable low” by making statements that harmed the dignity of the prime minister’s post.

In his statement, Singh added that the meeting on December 6 at Aiyar’s house was restricted to discussions about India’s relations with Pakistan and that the Gujarat polls didn’t figure in the conversation.

“My track record of public service to the country over last five decades is known to everyone. No one, including Modi, can lamely question it to gain lost political ground,” Singh said.

Pakistan too, refuted charges of a secret meeting. “India should stop dragging Pakistan into its electoral debate and win victories on own strength rather than fabricated conspiracies, which are utterly baseless and irresponsible,” Pakistan Foreign Office spokesperson Mohammad Faisal tweeted.

Hours later, the BJP hit back; law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad slammed Pakistan for giving “lessons”. “What is curious is that this happens and Pakistan comes out with an official statement... in many ways seeking to bail out Congress party. Is it too suspicious? Surely, the country will draw its own conclusion,” he added.

Singh also pointed out that Modi went to Pakistan “uninvited” after the terror attacks in Udhampur and Gurdaspur. “Let him also tell the country the reason for inviting the infamous ISI of Pakistan to our strategic Air Base in Pathankot to investigate a terror attack that emanated from Pakistan,” he said.

Meanwhile, the BJP questioned why it took the Congress 48 hours to admit to the meeting at Aiyar’s residence.

“Why was this a ‘hush hush’ meeting? Why was the MEA (Ministry of External Affairs) India not in the loop? Why do Congress leaders meet China and Pakistan envoys secretly?” party spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao asked on Twitter.

The Congress’ President-elect Rahul Gandhi, too, stepped into the debate. “The Prime Minister talks sometimes about Pakistan and sometimes about China and Japan. Modiji, this is the election for the future of Gujarat. Talk something about Gujarat too,” he said at a rally in the state’s Banaskantha district.

But Modi pressed on with his Pakistan references. At Nadiad, he said in a rally that money that was being routed from Pakistan to fund terrorists in India had stopped after last November’s demonetisation.

The BJP has governed Gujarat for 22 years but the Congress is hoping to unseat it by tapping anger over the agrarian crisis and the implementation of the Goods and Services Tax, and on the strength of a partnership with Patidars, some backward classes, and Dalits. The BJP is counting on its record in the state and the Modi magic to see it through.

First Published: Dec 11, 2017 17:06 IST