Congress questions his claim of being a “nationalist” for trusting Pakistani scribe

The Congress tore into the BJP’s prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, for trusting the word of a Pakistani — rather than an Indian — journalist, questioning his boast of being a “nationalist”: on Sunday, Mr. Modi, while addressing a pre-election rally here in the western suburb of Rohini, attacked Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif for apparently using the expression “dehati aurat” (village woman) to describe Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in a conversation with Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir and NDTV’s Barkha Dutt.

Congress communication chief Ajay Maken called a special press conference on Sunday afternoon to express his outrage at Mr. Modi’s remarks, saying he had deliberately sought to denigrate Dr. Singh at a time when he was abroad. “It is extremely sad,” he said, “that Mr. Modi should have chosen a moment when the Prime Minister was abroad to show him in a poor light. Narendra Modi preferred to accept the Pakistani version of a conversation rather than Barkha Dutt’s: this Hamid Mir is the same journalist whose dispatches on Kargil were dodgy.”

It is clear, Mr. Maken said, that Mr. Modi’s aim was “to spread calumny against the Prime Minister,” and publicly humiliate him and deliberately hurt India’s national interest “on the basis of cooked up information.” Furthering the “false propaganda of a section of Pakistani press” in a rally which, Mr. Modi knew, was being covered live by national television, “spoke volumes about his devious role in misleading the people,” Mr. Maken said.

If the Congress has, of late, begun to place Mr. Modi’s comments under the scanner, the BJP leader quoting Mir came in useful on Sunday to help the party demonstrate its loyalty and support for Dr. Singh. For this comes just two days after party vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s public censure of the ordinance on convicted legislators created a stir in the party and was read as undermining the position of the Prime Minister, with many people, including his former media adviser, Sanjaya Baru, even suggesting he step down.

Later in the day, Ms. Dutt clarified on Twitter that Mir, too, had clarified that nothing “derogatory” had been said about Dr. Singh by Mr. Sharif.

Mr. Sharif, she said, had called Dr. Singh a “good man” whom he was going to invite again to visit Pakistan. She added that Mir would have to explain why he had “distorted” what she felt “was just an illustrative story on India-Pak-U.S. equations.” Ms. Dutt said Mr. Sharif’s “allegorical account was all about how disputes should not involve third parties,” that “not once was a slur passed by him against the PM” during the conversation. Mr. Sharif’s tale about a dispute between two villagers, one of whom was a woman, “ended with how fights should be settled between parties,” Ms. Dutt tweeted: Mr. Sharif was upset, she said, that India had raised Pakistan with U.S. President Obama.

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