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BJP aims Atal gun at Manmohan

New Delhi, Sept. 14: The BJP today slammed the Prime Minister for “discussing domestic politics” on foreign soil following his alleged remark to the US President that Atal Bihari Vajpayee had been “sharply critical” of the Indo-US nuclear pact.

A statement issued by former external affairs minister Jaswant Singh called Manmohan Singh’s remark “unfortunate”.

“Media reports highlight the Prime Minister’s half-hour meeting with President (George W.) Bush in a particular vein as if the PM was complaining to the President of the US about our domestic politics,” the statement said.

“This is unfortunate because the country awaits instead an elaboration of issues discussed and in particular details of the Iran-India gas pipeline, UN reforms or the domestic opposition to President Bush, in the Senate, on the issue of nuclear cooperation with India.”

The BJP leader stressed that “all established conventions, mutual regard and due courtesy demand that domestic politics is not made a subject of discussion by our PM when visiting abroad”.

BJP vice-president Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi said the Chennai national executive will discuss the Prime Minister’s exchange with President Bush as well as a speech he made at Oxford University in July. In the speech, the Prime Minister was perceived to have spoken in a positive vein about some aspects of British rule in India.

The BJP is expected to release a separate statement on the Prime Minister’s “conduct” of foreign relations. Naqvi claimed that during his overseas visits as Prime Minister, Vajpayee had always made it a point to praise the then leader of the Opposition and Congress president, Sonia Gandhi.

He accused Manmohan Singh of creating a “new tradition” in Indian politics and said it was “dangerous” for the country.

The Congress was in denial mode. Spokesperson Jayanthi Natarajan said what took place between Bush and the Prime Minister was strictly private and that the official transcript of the talks, put out in the form of a statement by foreign secretary Shyam Saran, makes no reference to Vajpayee’s “criticism” of the nuclear pact.

It was the Prime Minister’s media adviser, Sanjaya Baru, who had spoken about this in his press briefing in New York.

“If the BJP is referring to Baru’s comments, we are not aware of these. We are trying to ascertain the fact because we do not know the context of Baru’s comments. What transpired between President Bush and the PM, nobody knows. What we have is a statement by Shyam Saran and what he said is the official version. We are neither denying nor agreeing with Baru’s remarks,” Natarajan said.

The CPI reacted cautiously. General secretary A.B. Bardhan said the Prime Minister’s remark was “avoidable” and added, “We do not need the US to deal with Vajpayee”.

The CPM stood firmly behind the Prime Minister, saying he “cannot be faulted for telling the truth”. But the party made it clear that like the BJP, it is opposed to the nuclear deal. CPM politburo member Sitaram Yechury said the Prime Minister, by acknowledging the differences among Indian parties on Indo-US relations, was just “stating a fact”.

BJP general secretary Rajnath Singh recalled the “glorious tradition” upheld by previous governments. He cited how in 1995, Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao had sent Vajpayee (then leader of the Opposition) to New York when the UN General Assembly was proposing to move an anti-India resolution on Kashmir.

“The BJP and the Congress had serious differences on Kashmir but on foreign soil, Vajpayee said nothing that was out of step with the official policy. This PM has broken the tradition and undermined his prestige and that of the country,” Rajnath said.

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