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PM prepares for press & Pak

New Delhi, Sept. 3: Politics took up the best part of Manmohan Singh’s day today.

In the morning, the Prime Minister met his predecessor Atal Bihari Vajpayee over breakfast to evolve a consensus before India goes into talks with Pakistan on Sunday.

The second half of the day was spent huddled with PMO officials, who briefed Singh on handling “tricky” questions at tomorrow’s press conference, his first as Prime Minister.

Sources said the objective of the breakfast meeting at 7 Race Course Road was to gather “insights” from the experience of the NDA government in dealing with Pakistan. Vajpayee, however, offered neither comment nor advice, the sources added.

External affairs minister K. Natwar Singh and his predecessor in the Vajpayee government, Yashwant Sinha, were also present. Natwar will meet his Pakistani counterpart Khursheed Mehmood Kasuri here on Monday.

Upset by the impasse in the budget session and the view that the government had not done enough to break it, Singh hoped his consensus-building measure would ease the tension with the Opposition.

Foreign ministry spokesperson Navtej Sarna later said: “The leaders that the PM and the external affairs minister consulted supported the government’s approach to these talks and the approach that this should not be seen as an event but as a process that needs to be carried forward.”

This was the Prime Minister’s first formal meeting with Vajpayee after the face-off in Parliament that culminated in his refusal to accept an NDA memorandum on the budget.

The effort at consensus-building over, Singh went into meetings with his team — minister of state in the PMO Prithviraj Chavan, national security adviser J.. Dixit, principal secretary T.K.A. Nair, adviser (internal security) M.K. Narayanan and media adviser Sanjaya Baru — to prepare for the press conference.

Apart from Indo-Pak talks, they anticipate questions on Kashmir, Manipur, Savarkar, Uma Bharti’s arrest, inflation and reservation in the private sector. The sources said the “toughest” would be Savarkar, an issue on which the Congress is divided. The Prime Minister’s own view on the Hindu Mahasabha founder is that he was a “controversial” figure and that while there was no denying his role in the freedom movement, the fact was that he begged for mercy from the British when he was arrested unlike Bhagat Singh and Chandrashekhar Azad.

On Uma’s arrest and the Karnataka government’s flip-flop on withdrawing the cases against her, sources claimed Singh would have “no problem” fielding the most difficult questions.

The Prime Minister is expected to make known the government’s position on inflation that shot up to a four-year high of 8.17 per cent in the week that ended on August 21.

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