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Manmohan seeks Modi's apology on Congress' Pakistan link

New Delhi

11-December-2017

A "deeply pained and anguished" former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Monday hit back at Prime Minister Narendra Modi, accusing him of spreading "falsehood and canards" in a desperate bid to win the Gujarat election and asked him to "apologize to the nation".

In an unusually hard-hitting statement, Manmohan Singh denied allegations by Modi that he and others, including former Vice President Hamid Ansari and former Army Chief Gen. Deepak Kapoor, invited to a dinner at Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar's residence with Pakistani diplomats, discussed the Gujarat election.

The BJP fielded Finance Minister Arun Jaitley to rebut Manmohan Singh's charge, saying that the former Prime Minister should admit that engaging with Pakistan at this moment was a "misadventure" for which he should apologize instead of demanding one from Modi.

"I am deeply pained and anguished by the falsehood and canards being spread to score political points in a lost cause by none less than ... Modi," Manmohan Singh said.

"Fearing imminent defeat in Gujarat, desperation of the Prime Minister to hurl every abuse and latch on to every straw is palpable.

"Sadly and regrettably, 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," Manmohan Singh added.

The statement follows Modi's allegations at an election rally in Gujarat that guests at Aiyar's house, including Manmohan Singh, Ansari and Gen. Kapoor, discussed the Gujarat polls with Pakistan's High Commissioner to India and a former Pakistani Foreign Minister, Khurshid Kasuri, among others, suggesting that the Congress was conspiring with Pakistani leaders to prevent the BJP from winning the election in the state. 

"(On one hand) Pakistan Army's former DG is interfering in Gujarat's election and on the other Pakistani people are holding a meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar's house," Modi said.

Manmohan Singh made public the guest list at Aiyar's in Delhi. Those present included former External Affairs Minister K. Natwar Singh, former Foreign Secretary Salman Haider, former High Commissioners of India to Pakistan T.C.A. Raghavan, Satinder K. Lambah, Sharad Sabharwal and M.K. Bhadrakumar and India's former Permanent Representative to the UN, C.R. Gharekhan.

Also present in the meeting were academician Kanti Bajpai and journalists Prem Shankar Jha, Ajai Shukla and Rahul Singh.

"I reject the innuendos and falsehoods as I did not discuss Gujarat elections with anyone else at the dinner hosted by Aiyar as alleged by Modi. Nor was the Gujarat issue raised by anyone else present at the dinner," Manmohan Singh said.

"The discussion was confined to India-Pakistan relations," he added.

Manmohan Singh said the Congress needed "no sermons on 'nationalism' from a party and Prime Minister whose compromised track record on fighting terrorism is well known.

"Let me remind Modi that he had gone to Pakistan uninvited after the terrorist 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."

Manmohan Singh went on: "I sincerely hope that the 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 apologize to the nation for his ill thought transgression to restore the dignity of the office he occupies."

Talking to the media, Jaitley said the former Prime Minister and the Congress should come out with facts as to what happened in the meeting and what was the need to have it.

Referring to Manmohan Singh's attack on the government's policy towards tackling terrorism, the Finance Minister said the government has a track record which no other government in the past can boast of.

"On Sunday, the Congress was in a denial mode (about the dinner). Instead of accepting it as a misadventure, they are trying to blame us. They should apologise to the people instead of seeking apologies from us."

The Congress also demanded an apology from Modi for accusing it of "colluding and conspiring with Pakistan for Gujarat elections".

"We have full faith that the Gujarat electorate is intelligent and mature enough to understand the tactics behind yesterday's address (by Modi) and will answer them in the second phase," Congress leader Anand Sharma told the media here. 

"It was not a secret meeting.... The Prime Minister is giving it a sinister and sensational twist. The Prime Minister should restore the dignity of political discourse, and apologise to the former Vice President and the former Prime Minister.

"It is clear that he has done so with the intent to confuse and mislead the people of Gujarat for the second phase of the elections, to whip emotions and to polarize. It is outrageous."

Sharma said India is not a police state where "we should seek Prime Minister's permission" for hosting dinners.

On its part, Pakistan also rebuffed the allegations of a secret meeting between Congress leaders and its High Commissioner, saying India should stop "dragging" Islamabad into its electoral debate and termed Modi's remarks as "baseless and irresponsible".

Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram in a tweet said: "Former PM Dr. Manmohan Singh is absolutely right in demanding an apology for the outrageous allegation made yesterday against the former Vice President (Hamid Ansari) and former Prime Minister and other distinguished former civil servants." - IANS