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Twain meet in troubled times

New Delhi, July 31: Prime Minister Manmohan Singh overcame recent bitterness with his opposite number today and called L.K. Advani for discussions on the critical security environment.

But the fact that the two met despite the sourness of unpleasant personal exchanges during the recent trust vote was perhaps the least significant aspect of their talks.

It comes in the wake of the recent bombings and the sudden escalation of cross-border tension with Pakistan. It comes at a time both the government and the BJP, unusually, have reacted in unison to the bombings: that this is a conspiracy against the nation by an adversary who is no less obvious for remaining unnamed. It comes on the eve of the Prime Minister’s departure for the Saarc summit at Colombo where he will be face to face with the democratically elected Pakistani Premier, Yousuf Raza Gilani, for the first time.

But perhaps more significant than all of these is the reticence of both sides over what transpired at the meeting. The BJP only revealed that Advani had lobbied the Prime Minister for more stringent anti-terror laws and for restoring forest land near the Amarnath temple to the shrine board.

The Prime Minister’s Office said not a word, not even that such an apex-level meeting had taken place at such a vital juncture. Contacted, Advani’s office confirmed the meeting but declined comment.

Sources indicated, though, that the government has been rattled by the series of blasts and the renewed border tension. Although nobody has spelt out a tangible link between the two, the government’s strategic advisers may be seeing in the concurrent events a larger threat to national security.

Consequently, the government has been wanting to bring the BJP, the main Opposition, on board on its assessment of the situation and appeal for a “consensual national” response.

It is learnt that prior to the meeting with Advani, the Prime Minister and his advisers have also been briefing top strategic advisers of the NDA on the grim security situation.

It is significant, in this context, that BJP leaders, including Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi and general secretary Arun Jaitley, have virtually repudiated colleague Sushma Swaraj’s allegation that the recent bombings were a “conspiracy” hatched by the Centre to take attention off the alleged cash-for-votes scandal. Both leaders have appeared to rise above party politics to project the bombings as a “threat to the country”.

Jaitley, in fact, accompanied Advani to the meeting with the Prime Minister. Present on the government’s side were home minister Shivraj Patil and national security adviser M.K. Narayanan.

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