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Vajpayee clears air on Iraq

New Delhi, March 29: India does not want Iraq to lose its independence, Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee declared today.

The strong statement, delivered at the National Democratic Alliance’s rally to mark five years in office, came as Vajpayee dismissed Opposition charges that his government was toeing America’s line on Iraq.

“We will take decisions independently and we will not come under pressure,” the Prime Minister said as he asserted that his government has always stressed that the crisis should be resolved through the United Nations.

“India did not want Iraq’s independence to be lost,” he added.

Vajpayee also denied a newspaper report that US President George W. Bush had asked him three times for military support. “Neither have I been approached nor have I given any assurance,” he said. “These reports have sought to create needless confusion.... Then the Congress will say that the government has come under pressure.”

Vajpayee expressed his irritation with the Opposition for criticising his government for not condemning the US action. “We are told that we are not clear on our stand on the Iraq issue. We say we have made it as clear as possible,” he said, adding that his government’s stand has been conveyed both at the UN and at the Non-Aligned Movement and also made known to several key countries.

His government was being “diplomatic”, he said, and wanted to know from the Congress whether it had not followed a similar strategy when it was in power.

However, the Prime Minister also stressed on the need for consensus on foreign policy issues. The Iraq crisis was not a matter for scoring political points, he said and added that a unanimous view would help the nation. “Who is greedy and who is corrupt will be known during elections.”

Though the NDA rally displayed the coalition’s unity, there were some red faces, too, as some of the alliance leaders did not get a chance to speak.

Among those who could not address the rally were leaders of the Biju Janata Dal, represented by Union water resources minister Arjun Sethi, and Lok Sabha MPs representing the MDMK, the PMK, the National Conference and the Shiv Sena.

Rashtriya Lok Dal leader and Union agriculture minister Ajit Singh stayed away as he does not get along well with Haryana chief minister Om Prakash Chautala. Also absent was BJP leader and human resources development minister Murli Manohar Joshi.

Vajpayee criticised the Congress for not spelling out its strategy on coalition politics and dared the main Opposition party to have an alliance in Uttar Pradesh like the one it has in Maharashtra. “Like in Maharashtra, the Congress should enter into an alliance in Uttar Pradesh also. It should clarify its stand on coalition politics. In several areas, the Congress policy is not clear,” Vajpayee said.

The Prime Minister taunted the Congress on its new slogan — “Congress ka haath, garib ka saath”. Recalling Indira Gandhi’s slogan of “garibi hatao”, he said: “I thought poverty has been eradicated but from where has it resurfaced'”

Vajpayee stressed on the NDA government’s “collective” achievement and said “I alone should not be given credit” for it.

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