New Delhi: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said on Monday he was "deeply pained and anguished" by the "falsehood and canards being spread to score political points by none less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi" and called for an apology as an unprecedented war of words exploded between a prime minister and his predecessor in the backdrop of the bitterly-contested Gujarat election.
- PM Narendra Modi said Pakistan trying to meddle in Gujarat polls
- Former PM Manmohan Singh at Mani Shankar Aiyar's dinner last week
- Other dinner guests denied domestic politics discussed
In an unusually combative response to PM Modi's charge that Congress leaders had discussed the Gujarat election with Pakistani guests at a recent dinner hosted by suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, Manmohan Singh said: "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 apologise to the nation for his ill-thought transgression."
The rejoinder came from Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, who said Congress leaders meeting Pakistani officials was a "complete misadventure" and "to ask for the PM's apology is beyond comprehension".
Manmohan Singh, former Vice President Hamid Ansari and former army chief Deepak Kapoor were among the guests at a dinner on Wednesday that also featured the Pakistan envoy, a former Pakistan minister, an ex-Pakistan army officer, former Indian diplomats and journalists. Dr Singh is the fourth guest from that dinner to stress that discussions revolved around India-Pak ties, not domestic politics or Gujarat polls.
"Sadly and regrettably, Mr 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 furious former PM said in his statement. "Fearing imminent defeat in Gujarat, desperation of Prime Minister to hurl every abuse and latch on to every straw is palpable," he added.
The Congress, Dr Singh said, "needs no sermons on nationalism from a party and prime minister whose compromised track record on fighting terrorism is well known...Let me remind Narendra 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."
Addressing a public rally yesterday in Gujarat, where the second round of voting will take place on Thursday, PM Modi had raised the Mani Shankar Aiyar dinner and suggested that the Congress was conspiring with Pakistani leaders to prevent the BJP from winning the election in Gujarat, where the party has been in power for 22 years. PM Modi also said a former Pakistan Army officer has supported senior Congress leader Ahmed Patel becoming chief minister of Gujarat.
"(On one hand) Pakistan Army's former DG is interfering in Gujarat's election, on the other, Pakistani people are holding a meeting at Mani Shankar Aiyar's house," PM Modi said. He alleged that a day after the dinner, Mr Aiyar targeted him with the "neech" slur.