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Joint statement does raise speculation, admits Congress

By Renu Mittal in New Delhi
July 27, 2009 23:19 IST
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The Congress party has, for the first time, admitted that 'there were questions, apprehensions and speculation in relation to the Indo-Pak joint statement at Sharm-el-Sheikh in Egypt' but said that it was 'confident that when Prime Minister Manmohan Singh speaks in Parliament on July 29, he will set them all at rest'.

The latest stand of the Congress party, which is still not being seen as a wholehearted endorsement of the prime minister but qualified in the sense that the party will wait to hear what he has to say, was spelled out by the All India Congress Committee media chairman Janardhan Dwivedi who made a suo motto statement to the media two days before the prime minister is to speak in the House.

Dwivedi's statement came after a morning daily in New Delhi carried the 'dossier' given by Pakistan. Dr Singh's supporters are trying to see a dossier on the investigations done by Pakistan over 26/11 Mumbai attacks as the reason behind the PM's bold initiative. Never before has Pakistan accepted in so many words that terror was unleashed from their soil.

However, it is believed that Pakistan has done the investigation under US pressure because Americans have also been killed and charge sheet is filed in the US court as well.

Highly placed sources in the party state that the prime minister's statement to Parliament is being drafted in consultation and co-ordination with the party as well as some senior ministers of the government. They insist that this time there should be no slip-ups, hence the need to be very careful.

While senior leaders admit that the crisis has blown over for the time being, privately they concede that after the prime minister speaks and explains 'the party will either follow or nuance itself' since Congress chief Sonia Gandhi is to give the party line the following day on July 30 when she addresses the meeting of the Congress parliamentary party.

Privately, an AICC official said that it now well established that there is a problem with the language of the joint statement, he said that de-linking talks from terror can be interpreted and explained away by bad drafting but the same excuse cannot be made for 'Baluchistan', which cannot be blamed as the case of 'bad drafting'.

But despite these misgivings and the continued unease in the party, the leadership appears to have taken the call that the prime minister will be able to convince all sections and give a satisfactory explanation for the wordings of the joint statement.

Sources in the government state that with preparations having begun for the July 29 debate, there are no MPs from the Congress coming forward to defend the government. The government is interested in fielding a mix of young and senior mps but many of them have said they are not well versed in the subject. The MEA is likely to give a crash course to the speakers on how best to defend the government with the prime minister himself the main speaker. There is also concern as to how the Minister for External Affairs SM Krishna will handle the reply since he is also new to the job and has so far not shown any great ability to handle the sensitive and tricky portfolio.

When asked leader of the Lok Sabha, Pranab Mukherjee whether he would be speaking in the debate on the issue, he replied in the negative.

The BJP is all set to continue its opposition to the joint statement with a BJP delegation calling on the President Pratibha Patil to register their protest at India deviating from its stated position on Pakistan.

The PMO has begun damage control with sections of the media carrying reports justifying the Prime Minister's Pakistan line, while senior minister Salman Khursheed said there was no difference between Congress and prime minister on Indo-Pak joint statement and that the entire party was with Manmohan Singh.
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Renu Mittal in New Delhi