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Sharif ‘remark’: Modi fans a row that never was

Even worse,it was picked up by the BJP’s PM candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and portrayed as a prestige issue.

Written by Express News Service | New York |
September 30, 2013 2:49:40 am

In the run-up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s meeting with his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif Sunday,played out a media drama that wasn’t.

Even worse,it was picked up by the BJP’s PM candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and portrayed as a prestige issue while all that had happened was Sharif complaining about Singh raising Pakistan with US President Barack Obama,in an off-the-record breakfast meeting with select journalists.

A rattled Sharif got Pakistan Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani to call up National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon,who is in New York with the PM,to convey that he had never insulted Singh.

Later,Pakistani journalists who were present at the breakfast,backed up Sharif’s claims. “Sharif saheb never said anything like a dehaati woman for Prime Minister Singh. He only used an anecdote to make the point that when India and Pakistan can talk to each other,then why complain to Obama,and that too about the Punjab government’s funding to Jamat-ud Dawa,” said Absar Alam,an Aaj TV anchorperson.

By his account and that of other journalists,Sharif related a small story about a room full of sleeping men in a village. One of them got up and started offering prayers to Allah. And he then began complaining about how others were asleep while he was awake and praying. At that point,one of the others in the room woke up and told the man to pray for himself and not complain about the others.

“Sharif was only trying to make the point that Singh could have his talks with Obama,but why bring up Pakistan? It was a harmless story,spoken off-the-record and in good humour,” added Alam.

The drama started when another Pakistani journalist,Geo TV’s Hamid Mir,made a reference to Singh being like “a woman from dehaat (rural areas)” pleading for help from god. He seemed to attribute it to Sharif,but later — in a bid to put matters to rest before the bilateral meeting began — retracted on Twitter,saying the Pakistan PM did not make any “derogatory” remarks about his Indian counterpart.

“Nawaz Sharif basically wanted to say that if India had a problem with Pakistan,then the two countries can speak and not take it up with Obama. And he said this in a lighter vein. I presented this on television in a nutshell. Sharif never said anything of the sort,” clarified Mir.

What blew matters up was Modi raising the same in his speech,calling it “the biggest insult of the PM” — elevating it to some sort of a diplomatic incident.

In his speech,Modi also said: “I want to ask those journalists,I don’t know who they were but journalists of my country who were having sweets with Nawaz Sharif when he was abusing our Prime Minister,calling him village woman,I expected those Indian journalists,the country expected them,to refuse the sweets and walk out.”

The apex body of the editors of national and regional TV news channels of India,the Broadcast Editors’ Association (BEA),objected to Modi’s criticism of members of the Indian media contingent accompanying the PM. “Such statement aims at demeaning the Indian media,which is a key institution of democracy,” the BEA said.

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