Congress demanding apology from Modi is absurd: Arun Jaitley

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Some series of events in the past few days have rowed up the feud between BJP and Congress, amid the already tense situation in wake of the Gujarat Assembly elections. While the two major political parties of India are engaged in a war at the battlefield in Gujarat, none of them have left any stone unturned.

Some days back a Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar had passed some abusive comments on Prime Minister Narendra Modi, calling him a ‘neech admi’. However, soon after the remarks were made, the Congress asked Aiyar to apologize to Modi and also suspended him from the party. Apologising to the Prime Minister, Aiyar had said that since his Hindi was weak, he had not meant to use the word ‘neech’ as ‘low born’. He also claimed that he is ready to bear any punishment if the Congress suffered any damage in Gujarat because of him.

Nonetheless, the BJP used this remark made by the Congress leader in their favour. Addressing the rallies in Gujarat the Prime Minister dented the comment a bit and alleged that Aiyar had called him a ‘low born’ and by saying this he had insulted not just him but the entire Gujarat. A day after the comment controversy, the BJP highlighted another case alleging that the Congress was involved with the Pakistan delegators and were planning a conspiracy to influence the Gujarat assembly elections. 

Addressing an election rally on 10 December, Modi alleged that “there was a meeting convened at Aiyar’s residence where Pakistan’s High Commissioner, Pakistan’s ex-Foreign Minister, former Vice President of India Hamid Ansari and former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh were present. The meeting lasted three hours and the next day Mani Shankar said I am a ‘neech’.”

During the rally, Modi questioned that “Why did they have to have a meeting with Pakistani officials. Pakistan is our enemy. You (Congress) meet them and the next day call me ‘neech’. Isn’t this a thing to worry about? Does it not raise doubts? There is something dubious here, isn’t it? You should have ensured the presence of government officials at the meeting. Why are you holding meetings with our enemy neighbour in secrecy?”

He further asked that “Isn’t calling me ‘neech’ insulting to Gujarat? Isn’t it insulting to the country? Insulting to the government whom the people voted to power?”

Responding to the allegations made by Narendra Modi, Congress leader Anand Sharma said that the ex-Pakistan Foreign Minister had come to India to attend a wedding and the dinner was only hosted out of courtesy and nothing else. Demanding an apology from the Prime Minister for making such serious allegations on the Congress leaders, Sharma said that “there was a dinner organised for him in which there were former diplomats and the former Army chief, among other dignitaries. Does the PM think they were all conspiring with Pakistan? This is reprehensible. The PM must apologise.”

The Prime Minister had also alleged that the Pakistan delegators were trying to influence the Gujarat elections. He said that “former Pakistan Army general, Arshad Rafiq, has announced that he favoured Congress MP Ahmed Patel as the Gujarat Chief Minister.” Addressing the rally and making firm assertion that the Congress was involved with the Pakistanis, Modi said that “Why? You are in Pakistan. Why are you interested in our country’s affairs? Isn’t this alarming? All this and the meeting at Aiyar’s residence. What is all this? My friends, you should give me a promise that you will root out the Congress and give a thumping victory to the BJP at every booth in Ahmedabad.”

Meanwhile, reacting to the statements of Modi, Mohammad Faisal, the spokesperson for the Pakistan Ministry of Foreign Affairs, tweeted that “India should stop dragging Pakistan into its electoral debate.”

Responding to the tweet of the Pakistani official, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad lashed out at Faisal’s tweet. He replied back that “We completely abhor outside interference in India’s internal affairs. Pakistan’s promotion of terrorism in India is well-known, and the country must stop giving us lessons. We are proud of our democracy and condemn this unwarranted statement.”

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom Modi had accused to be involved with the Pakistani officials, also asked Narendra Modi to apologise for making such serious allegations. Issuing a statement, demanding an apology Manmohan Singh said that “I reject the innuendos and falsehoods as I did not discuss Gujarat elections with anyone else at the dinner hosted by Mani Shankar Aiyar as alleged by Modi. I sincerely hope that he will apologise to the nation for his ill-thought transgression to restore the dignity of the office he occupies.”

The full text of Manmohan Singh’s statement:

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 Prime Minister, Sh. Narender Modi. Fearing imminent defeat in Gujarat, the desperation of Prime Minister to hurl every abuse and latch on to every straw is palpable. Sadly & regrettably, Sh. 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.

The Congress Party needs no sermons on “Nationalism” from a party and Prime Minister, whose compromised track record on fighting terrorism is well known. Let me remind Sh. Narender 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.

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

I reject the innuendos and falsehoods as I did not discuss Gujarat elections with anyone else at the dinner hosted by Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar as alleged by Shri Modi. Nor was the Gujarat issue raised by anyone else present at the dinner. The discussion was confined to India-Pakistan relations. Names of the distinguished Indian public servants and journalists present at the dinner are enclosed with this statement. None of them could be accused of indulging in any anti-national activities.

I sincerely hope that 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.

Significantly, senior BJP leader Yashwant Sinha has also defended the dinner meeting hosted by suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar. In his statement to the media, Yashwant Sinha said that “I see nothing wrong in Mani Shankar organising a dinner meeting to discuss Indo-Pak peace prospects. I was also invited to the same dinner but could not attend it because of my political engagement in Akola in Maharashtra.”

Further defending Aiyar, the BJP leader said that Aiyar and ex-foreign minister of Pakistan Khurshid Ahmed Kasuri are good friends from their days at Cambridge University. He also underlined the fact that this was not the first time that Aiyar had hosted a dinner for the Pakistan official. He said that “Aiyar had once earlier had another dinner to mark the release of Kasuri’s book on India-Pakistan relations. I was at that dinner and before that, I even participated in a panel discussion on Kasuri’s book with Advaniji sitting in the front row. To suggest that such events are part of some conspiracy is nothing but absurd.”

He also added that if the Prime Minister was serious about the charges that the dinner organised by Aiyar was a part of a conspiracy to influence the Gujarat elections, then he must hold an immediate inquiry or else the allegations made by Modi will be seen as an irresponsible statement coming from the prime minister, just to pull down on Congress making it a political issue ahead of the Gujarat polls.

Also, the political experts are of the opinion that Aiyar holding such dinner was perfectly normal and does not indicate any conspiracy against BJP, as the suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar is involved in the Track-II diplomacy process with Pakistan. These talks, outside the ambit of the official dialogue between New Delhi and Islamabad, have long been a fixture in the landscape of India-Pakistan relations.

Some experts also brought up the incident when Prime Minister Narendra Modi on December 25, 2015, went to attend a party in Lahore thrown by Nawaz Sharif, then Pakistan’s prime minister that too uninvited.

Amid all the opinions and debate between the BJP and Congress regarding the dinner incident, Union Finance Minister Arun Jaitley also attacked the Congress, regarding their demand for an apology from the Prime Minister. On 11 Dec, Jaitley charged Manmohan Singh for defying the national line by meeting Pakistani diplomats. He also demanded to know the context, relevance, and necessity of such a meet. He also termed the meeting as a ‘political misadventure’.

The Finance Minister in his statement to the press said that “It is surprising that Congress party expects the Prime Minister of India to apologise for raising an issue about a meeting, which they had initially denied.” He also raised a question asking that “Is (the) main opposition party not part of the State? It is a political misadventure, it has a political cost.” He said that the national policy states that the terror and talks cannot go hand in hand. If anyone defies the law they should be ready to answer, he added.