Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today said he was “deeply pained and anguished” by the “falsehood and canards” being spread by “none less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi”, as an unprecedented war of words exploded between a Prime Minister and his predecessor just ahead of voting in Gujarat.
Calling upon PM Modi to apologise to the nation for his “ill-thought transgression and restore the dignity of the office he occupies”, 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.”
The former PM, who attended a dinner hosted by suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar last week, was responding to PM Modi’s charge that Congress leaders and Pakistani guests discussed the Gujarat election at the dinner and Pakistan was trying to interfere in the election.
In an uncharacteristically sharp and combative riposte, Manmohan Singh said: “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 former Prime Minister said he rejected the innuendos and falsehoods. “I did not discuss Gujarat elections with anyone else at the dinner hosted by 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,” Dr Singh said.
The Congress party, he stressed, “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.”
“Fearing imminent defeat in Gujarat, desperation of Prime Minister to hurl every abuse and latch on to every straw is palpable,” Dr Singh said in an unusually sharp and combative takedown of the Prime Minister.
Other guests in the dinner have denied emphatically that domestic politics was discussed in the dinner last Wednesday.
The guests included the Pakistan High Commissioner, former foreign minister K Natwar Singh, former Army Chief Deepak Kapoor, former diplomats Salman Haider, Satinder Lambah, TCA Raghavan, Sharat Sabharwal, Chinmaya Gharekhan and senior journalists including Prem Shankar Jha and Rahul Khushwant Singh.
Addressing a public rally in Gujarat yesterday at the fag end of a vitriolic poll campaign, PM Modi 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.