The Narendra Modi government on Wednesday extended an olive branch to the Congress, with finance minister Arun Jaitley praising former prime minister Manmohan Singh’s “commitment to the nation” on the floor of the House.
The statement, made in the Rajya Sabha, was an attempt to facilitate the smooth functioning of Parliament’s winter session, which has been disrupted repeatedly over comments made by Prime Minister Modi ahead of the Gujarat elections earlier this month.
Though the Opposition did not get the apology from Modi they had demanded, the Cabinet’s most prominent minister said: “The PM in his speeches didn’t question, nor meant to question, the commitment to this nation of either former PM Manmohan Singh or former V-P Hamid Ansari. Any such perception is erroneous. We hold these leaders in high esteem, as well as their commitment to India.”
The initial response from the Congress indicated that they had been assuaged. “Thank the leader of the House for clarification on what has been issue of contention. I, on behalf of my party, say that we disassociate from any comments made by any member during elections that may have hurt PM’s dignity, also we don’t want any such thing to be said in future,” Ghulam Nabi Azad, leader of the Opposition in the Rajya Sabha, said.
Azad, in what appeared to be a show of good faith, was referring to a statement made by Mani Shankar Aiyar that the prime minister was “neech” (lowly). Aiyar has since been suspended by the Congress.
Modi was not in the House when Jaitley spoke. He was in Shimla to attend a ceremony in which the Bharatiya Janata Party’s Jai Ram Thakur took oath as the chief minister of Himachal Pradesh. Modi usually attends the Rajya Sabha on Wednesdays, when issues related to the PMO are listed during Question Hour.
While addressing a rally in Gujarat’s Palanpur on December 10, the prime minister referred to a “secret meeting” at Aiyar’s house, attended by some senior Pakistani officials, Singh, and Ansari. He suggested the meeting was linked to the Gujarat elections.
Singh responded by saying he was “pained and anguished by the falsehood and canards” being spread by the prime minister. “Modi is setting a dangerous precedent by his insatiable desire to tarnish every constitutional office, including that of a former prime minister and Army chief,” Singh said.
The Congress has not allowed Parliament to function since the winter session began on December 15. Vice-president Venkaiah Naidu tried to broker peace between the two sides last week, but Congress leaders have routinely staged walkouts or shouted slogans in the well of both Houses, demanding an apology from Modi.