The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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PM-apology seekers get double slap

New Delhi, Dec. 11: The gloves are off and the Prime Minister will not apologise, not when the Uttar Pradesh election is coming up.

The government made it clear today that Manmohan Singh would not apologise inside or outside Parliament for his alleged “pro-minorities” statement.

Parliamentary affairs and information and broadcasting minister Priya Ranjan Das Munshi articulated the government’s stand after the BJP demanded an apology and forced both Houses to adjourn for the day.

At the centre of the controversy is the Prime Minister’s speech on Saturday in which he made a reference to the “first claim on resources”. The PMO issued a clarification later that Singh meant all weaker sections but the BJP insists he meant Muslims.

Das Munshi, who had yesterday questioned the need for the clarification, stepped up his offensive today after receiving the go-ahead from the political leadership. “What crime has the Prime Minister committed' The BJP should apologise for polarising our society. We will not be cowed down by their obscurantism,” the minister said.

Das Munshi said unlike Atal Bihari Vajpayee who apparently “admitted after the Gujarat communal violence that he could ‘not show his face’, “our Prime Minister can show his face”.

The minister also took a swipe at an interview by L.K. Advani, in which he virtually declared himself the NDA’s candidate for Prime Minister for the next elections. “If Advani thinks that by doing all this he will become Prime Minister, he lives in a fool’s paradise,” Das Munshi said.

Sources said Das Munshi’s outburst reflects the leadership’s concern that if the government went back on a minority-related issue, the fallout would be “negative” in Uttar Pradesh, although there was no indication yet that the Muslims are returning to the Congress.

After the Left and the Samajwadi Party banded together to attack the BJP for holding up Parliament, the Congress felt it could not be “left behind”. Some NDA constituents have conveyed to the government that they would criticise the BJP if there is a discussion in the House.

Hair-splitting over semantics also created some confusion. The text of the speech had said “these must have the first claim on resources”. While delivering the speech, Singh had opted for “they”, which is correct English but it gave the impression that he specifically meant Muslims because he had mentioned them in the previous sentence.

However, in the preceding paragraph Singh did dwell at length on most of the weaker sections, such as scheduled castes and tribes, as the PMO clarified.

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