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Former prime minister Manmohan Singh on Monday said he was “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 Narendra Modi.” Singh said he sincerely hoped that the PM would “apologise to the nation for his ill thought transgression to restore the dignity of the office he occupies.” The former PM’s statement came in response to allegations by the PM that Pakistan was trying to influence the Assembly polls in Gujarat. On Sunday, the PM alleged in his speech at a public rally in Palanpur in Gujarat that some Pakistani officials and Singh met at Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s house over dinner on Wednesday, and subsequently Aiyar used the word “neech” to insult him the next day. Aiyar was suspended from the Congress party on Thursday. In a statement, Singh said Modi feared imminent defeat in the Gujarat poll, and his “desperation to hurl every abuse and latch on to every straw is palpable.” Singh said Modi was “sadly and regrettably” setting “a dangerous precedent by his insatiable desire to tarnish every constitutional office, including that of a former PM and Army chief.” In the evening, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad addressed a press conference. Jaitley ruled out an apology by Modi, and accused the former PM of defying the stated national policy on terror by meeting Pakistani diplomats and demanded to know the context, relevance and necessity of such a meet at the current juncture when the government’s policy was that “talks and terror cannot go together”. Jaitley termed the dinner meeting a “political misadventure”. The PM, however, didn’t refer to the controversy in his speech at a rally in Ahmedabad, but said the Congress party would blame its loss in Gujarat on to electronic voting machines as part of its ‘Rahul bachao abhiyan’, save Rahul campaign. In his statement, the former PM said he sincerely hoped the PM “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 statement from Singh also listed the people who had attended the dinner at Aiyar’s residence on Wednesday. Apart from Singh, those who attended the dinner were former vice-president M Hamid Ansari, former external affairs minister K Natwar Singh, former Army chief Deepak Kapoor and former Indian foreign secretary Salman Haidar.
Former Indian diplomats K S Bajpai, C R Gharekhan and M K Bhadrakumar, former high commissioners of India to Pakistan Satinder Lambah, T C A Raghavan and Sharad Sabharwal, Pakistan’s High Commissioner to India, former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Kasuri and some journalists had also attended the dinner.The former PM said the Congress needed no sermons on nationalism from a party and PM “whose compromised track record on fighting terrorism is well known.” Singh reminded Modi of having 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.” The former PM said his track record of public service to the country over the past decades was well known. “No one, including Shri Modi, can lamely question it to gain lost political ground.” Singh said he rejected the “innuendos and falsehoods” as he did not discuss Gujarat elections with anyone at the dinner, as alleged by Modi. “Nor was the Gujarat issue raised by anyone else present at the dinner. The discussion was confined to India-Pakistan relations,” Singh said, adding none of those present could be accused of indulging in any anti-national activities. Earlier in the day, Pakistan Foreign Office spokesman Mohammad Faisal said on Twitter: “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.” Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad condemned the statement from the Pakistan foreign office. He insinuated that Pakistan has come out with a statement to bail out the Congress. Senior Congress leader P Chidambaram said the BJP campaign in Gujarat has gone beyond bizarre. Campaigning in Gujarat, Congress President Rahul Gandhi said the PM talks of Afghanistan, China, Pakistan and Japan, but nothing on issues of Gujarat. The Congress leader said Modi feared BJP chief Amit Shah, and that was the reason he was not saying a word about the business deals of Shah’s son. The Congress demanded the PM apologise to former PM Singh and former vice-president Ansari. “Disgrace! Disgrace! An incumbent PM accusing an ex-PM, ex-vice-president and others (including an ex-Army Chief) of conspiring with Pakistan to influence Gujarat elections. The sheer crudity and falsehood of this has dishonoured the high office he holds,” Sudheendra Kulkarni, one-time speech writer of former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee and former political advisor to BJP veteran L K Advani, tweeted.