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Congress wants PM to undo Balochistan damage

The Congress on Monday made it public that it wanted Manmohan Singh to repair the political damage from the controversial Indo-Pak joint statement – a development that reinforced the perception of a disconnect between the party and the prime minister on his diplomatic gamble.

“The Congress is confident that when the prime minister speaks in Parliament on July 29, he will set at rest all the questions, apprehensions and speculation relating to the Into-Pak joint statement at Sharm el-Sheikh in Egypt,” party general secretary Janardan Dwivedi said, breaking the four-day-long spell when the party studiously stayed away from commenting on the issue.

Though couched in protocol propriety, Dwivedi’s statement to a news agency was seen as designed to reflect the leadership’s view that the prime minister’s assertions after the joint statement in Egypt and, later, in Parliament, were not enough to counter the perception that he ended up making concessions to Pakistan and that he needed to do more.

The leadership is especially concerned about the howler on Balochistan and wants the PM to correct it when he addresses the two Houses on Thursday, besides restoring the link between Pakistan’s actions on terror and the resumption of composite dialogue.

The PM skipped addressing the resentment over the first-ever mention of Pakistan’s “concerns” over Balochistan — shorthand for India’s alleged meddling in its rebellious province – in his statements in the two Houses of Parliament. The party leadership expects him to set the record straight on Thursday by rejecting the charge Pakistan has been making to blunt the iron-clad case against ISI’s terror campaign against India.

The public articulation of the “wish list” came two days after Singh’s claim on Saturday that he and the party were “on the same page”. His assertion, coming after he discussed the issue with Congress chief Sonia Gandhi and members of the party’s core group on Friday, had raised eyebrows in the party because of the implied suggestion that the leadership had taken the Balochistan bungle in stride. The interpretation in certain quarters that the party had endorsed a joint statement added to its discomfort.

Though the Congress was constrained not to contest the claim in public, it made little effort to conceal its continuing reservations, with party spokesperson Abhishek Singhvi stoutly refusing to comment on the joint statement as a standalone document.

The party has insisted that the joint statement should be read along with the statements made by the PM, to rebut the “sellout” charge. Dwivedi’s statement on Monday pointed to the recognition that, with Maharashtra polls looming, the party needed to do more to nip the perception of a “self goal” scored in Sharm el-Sheikh.

In private, party leaders make no bones of their displeasure over the “wording” of the joint statement, or for that matter, the regret that the PM and the officials accompanying him were lax. They, however, feel that an unambiguous statement by PM may help contain the damage that he acquiesced to Pakistan’s pressure to de-hyphenate its actions against terrorism and resumption of composite dialogue.

The party, however, is not sure whether and how the government can “wriggle out” of the spot it has put itself in by letting Pakistan slip Balochistan into the joint statement.

The Congress’s grievance also shows that the PM’s unilateralism may have dented the trust quotient with the leadership. The omerta practised by the party even when Singh came under attack from the Opposition for the “Egyptian blunder” have been seen as reflecting both the party’s unhappiness as well as its reluctance to embrace the folly.
Senior Congress leaders as well as his Cabinet colleagues are sore with the PM for letting his proclivities trump the party’s position vis-a-vis Pakistan as well as its political needs ahead of the polls in Maharashtra where 26/11 will be in play.

On Monday, the expectations expressed through Dwivedi’s statement as well as Singhvi’s stubborn refusal to endorse the Sharm el-Sheikh document gave rise to the perception that misgivings of individuals may have begun to cohere into an organizational view.

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