The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong caught in two minds

New Delhi, Nov. 27: Congress floor managers are caught in a bind over whether or not to run a campaign against deputy Prime Minister L.K. Advani for allegedly “misleading” the Lok Sabha on the release of Kashmiri militants.

Advani has claimed that the Mufti Mohammad Sayeed government did not inform the Centre before letting off political prisoners, but the Congress insists that the home ministry was aware.

Congress’ deputy leader in the Lok Sabha, Shivraj Patil, and few others are keen to bury the controversy. They argue that the party would be the “loser” if it presses for a privilege motion against Advani. Sonia has called a meeting of senior party leaders tomorrow morning to take a final view on the issue.

According to Patil, the role of Central intelligence agencies should not come under close scrutiny. This group has told Sonia that the Congress should treat the matter as closed because it involves national security and the role of intelligence agencies. It has also argued that in the “wider national interest”, the main Opposition party should try to keep the fragile national consensus on Kashmir intact instead of settling political scores.

However, frontbenchers Priya Ranjan Das Munshi and Jaipal Reddy favour a more aggressive line. They point out that the BJP, an “incorrigible communal propagandist”, was bent upon making this an election issue in Gujarat. The issue of national security should not be used to browbeat the Opposition, the MPs added.

On the need to maintain a national consensus on Kashmir, the Congress leaders said this could not be achieved unilaterally. The ruling coalition had a bigger responsibility to ward off such controversies, they added.

For the record, both sides continue to stick to their respective stand. According to the Congress, Mufti met the Intelligence Bureau special director on November 7 and informed him of his government’s decision to release some militants and “dissenters”, who were either being released by the courts or on parole.

On November 15, the Mufti government received a fax from the Union home secretary that reportedly cautioned him on releasing militants.

Party spokesman Anand Sharma accused the BJP of raising the issue with an eye on the Gujarat polls and labelled the party “irresponsible and cynical.”

“If the ruling party and its senior leaders choose to make the release of political prisoners an election issue, it is unfortunate, irresponsible, cynical and not serving the national interest,” he said.

“We have more details with us, but it is a conscious and deliberate decision of ours not to disclose them. The need of the hour was a co-ordinated approach and better understanding between the government in Srinagar and the government of India. Any further disclosure of facts by us will totally belie the claim of the home minister,” he said.

Sharma said that of the 26 detainees released, 16 were freed for lack of evidence on orders from the courts. Eight were released on parole on stringent conditions, he added. None of them was an underground terrorist or engaged in overt terrorist activities. He also stressed the need to differentiate between terrorists, militants and political dissenters.

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