Days of back-channel negotiations and exchange of drafts later, the government and Congress Wednesday resolved the stalemate in Parliament which had brought the winter session to a standstill over remarks made by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Congress veteran Mani Shankar Aiyar at the height of the Gujarat election campaign.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley told Rajya Sabha: “Let me categorically state that the Prime Minister, in his statements or speeches, did not question nor did he mean to question the commitment to this nation of either Dr Manmohan Singh, the former Prime Minister, or Hamid Ansari, the former Vice President. Any such perception is completely erroneous. We hold these leaders in high esteem as also their commitment to this nation”.
He said “many statements had been made on all sides during the elections (and) we do not want the stalemate as a result of this to continue”. This was followed by similar conciliatory remarks by Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad who, without naming party veteran Mani Shankar Aiyar, said the Congress dissociated itself from statements made by its leaders which went against the dignity of the Prime Minister. He said the Opposition would not want anybody to say anything in future too to hurt the dignity of the Prime Minister.
Modi and Manmohan Singh were not present in the House when Jaitley and Azad spoke. Thanking Jaitley, Azad said: “I, on behalf of my party and the Opposition, want to assure you that we too do not want to say anything against any leader and the Prime Minister. And if during the election, if a member of our party did say something that hurt the dignity of the Prime Minister, then our party wishes to dissociate itself from that remark and wants to have nothing to do with it. In future too, nothing should be said to hurt the dignity of the Prime Minister.”
The Congress had been disrupting Parliament from day one of the winter session, seeking first an apology and then settling for a clarification from the Prime Minister over his remarks that Manmohan Singh and Hamid Ansari were part of a secret meeting at Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence in which some Pakistani officials were also present. Aiyar had earlier called the Prime Minister a “neech kisam ka aadmi”.
The first signs of the tension easing came last week itself when the Congress climbed down from its demand for an apology from the Prime Minister. It agreed to Jaitley’s formulation that a statement would be made by him on behalf of the Prime Minister to clear the air. That was a way out for the government as it could not have accepted the Congress’s demand for a statement from the Prime Minister. The Congress too had realised that it could not stall Parliament for long over “one issue.”
Meanwhile, Minister of State for Parliamentary Affairs Vijay Goel met Manmohan Singh at his residence. Sources in the Congress maintained that Singh was deeply hurt by the Prime Minister’s remarks. Jaitley had told Congress leaders that he was even willing to meet Singh personally clear the air. With the two sides agreeing to resolve the impasse, negotiations began on a mutually acceptable text.
That, sources said, took time. The two sides met several times over the weekend. Drafts were exchanged and each word and formulation was discussed. The Congress, sources said, was very clear that the statement should reflect that the Prime Minister did not intend to question either Singh or Ansari’s integrity and their commitment to the nation and that it should say that the government unequivocally respects their contribution to the nation and holds them in high esteem.
The logjam ended Sunday evening when Jaitley and Goel met Azad and Anand Sharma. The final draft, sources said, was agreed to by both the sides on Sunday but some minor modifications were made Tuesday evening and Wednesday morning. The government wanted the Congress to “disown and regret” the statements made by its leaders against the Prime Minister which was agreed to.
Azad later said the Congress did not succumb to pressure but “yes, we did not want to continue this logjam for a longer period”. “So many things are happening. We are living in a dynamic world and everyday different issues come up before the country and before Parliament. We decided that we should not confine ourselves to one issue and hammer it again and again for days and weeks together. That meant letting up the government from these issues which come up every day,” he said.