The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Singh delinks visa protest from Godhra

New Delhi, March 23: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh today set the record straight on Narendra Modi.

He made it clear that his statement in the Rajya Sabha protesting against America's denial of visa to the Gujarat chief minister was not tantamount to defending Modi's role in the 2002 post-Godhra violence.

Issuing the clarification on Singh's behalf, his media adviser Sanjaya Baru said: 'The Prime Minister as Prime Minister made a statement as far as the sovereignty of the country is concerned on a question of principle and it is a criticism of the US government's decision. But it in no way condones Modi or what happened in Gujarat. The PM does not have to prove his secular or nationalist credentials because his whole life has been spent defending these principles and values. For anyone to question his secular credentials is uncalled for.'

Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma, who was initially non-committal on Modi's role in the Gujarat riots, made his feelings clear today.

'The Congress never diluted its stand as far as Modi and his regime are concerned. It is for the BJP to see why this (the visa denial) happened to Modi, it has to do self-introspection. Modi may be a hero for the BJP, but their hero has become a cause of national embarrassment,' Sharma told reporters.

He questioned L.K. Advani's presence at a swabhiman (self-respect) rally in Ahmedabad on Sunday, saying the BJP chief had to virtually tender an apology when he visited the US and the UK after the riots.

The Prime Minister's Office decided to clear air after a section of the Congress privately voiced reservations about Singh's statement.

Although nobody was willing to criticise it on record, some senior leaders were displeased with the part of the statement that accused the US government of reaching a 'subjective judgement' based on 'allegations'.

They felt the Prime Minister should have stuck to the 'diplomatically correct' position of the Indian government going through the motion of protesting to the US authorities against revoking tourist and business visas and refusing a diplomatic visa to Modi.

Sources said the Congress, while campaigning for the Lok Sabha elections, had made Gujarat a major plank. It had cited the National Human Rights Commission's observations and the Supreme Court's repeated indictments of the Modi government to buttress its attack.

Sources said the use of the term 'allegations' literally washed the campaign away as it amounted to a 'denial' of the murder and mayhem that had rocked Gujarat.

Ambika Soni tried to temper Sharma's comments by saying that if the US has refused to reconsider the visa denial, there were 'serious' reasons behind the decision.

Sources close to Singh said his statement had been prepared after consultations with Congress president Sonia Gandhi and external affairs minister K. Natwar Singh. The trio had agreed it was a 'statement of principle' that criticised the US decision but in no way defended Modi and the BJP and legitimised the Gujarat riots.

But the BJP hijacked the statement as a 'good conduct' certificate for its chief minister from none other than the Prime Minister.

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