The Gujarat Chief Minister, in his letter to the Prime Minister, had said Sir Creek should "not be handed over to Pakistan" and talks on this issue should be stopped.
Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s attempt to communalise the situation on the eve of the first phase of the elections in his State by drawing the Central government into a non-existent controversy earned the ire of the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO). Slamming Mr. Modi for releasing a letter he had despatched to Dr. Manmohan Singh on Wednesday to the press even before it reached him, the PMO said the allegation in the letter — that the government was about to hand over Sir Creek to Pakistan on December 15 — was completely untrue.
“The contents of the letter and the timing of its release to the public, even before it was formally received in this office,” the PMO press release says, “raise questions about the motives behind its issue. The writing and release of this baseless letter by the Chief Minister of Gujarat in his ‘personal’ capacity, a day before elections in the State, is mischievous.”
In his letter — which was released by BJP spokesperson Nirmala Sitharaman to the press in Ahmedabad on Wednesday — Mr. Modi claims that during his recent visit to the coastal districts of Kutch and Saurashtra, and North Gujarat, he had discovered “a genuine fear among the people regarding safety and security of Gujarat… if Government of India agrees to hand over Sir Creek to Pakistan.” Mr. Modi said he had heard that a decision would be taken on the issue on December 15, and as it was a matter that required urgent attention, he was writing to the Prime Minister. Since the election code of conduct was in place, he was writing “as a concerned and responsible citizen of Gujarat.”
Mr. Modi did not just release the letter; he also raised the issue during rallies he addressed in North and Central Gujarat on Wednesday.
The PMO release, underscoring the fact that Mr. Modi’s letter contains “unsubstantiated allegations and statements,” points out that discussions related to the Sir Creek issue “have been carried out by successive Governments of India since the dialogue process began in 1998, and continued after Shri Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Lahore.” Sir Creek is a disputed marshy water body along the India-Pakistan border, which has not been resolved yet. The release also says that “Shri Modi has written his letter without making any efforts to ascertain the facts from the Government of India.”
Mr. Modi’s letter is clearly an attempt to create trouble in the Saurashtra-Kutch region where he faces the greatest challenge in these elections, thanks to the water crisis there — there will be voting for the seats in Saurashtra on Thursday.
The letter has been written ahead of the visit of Pakistan interior minister Rehman Malik to India on December 14 as part of the ongoing dialogue with that country — on the table are several bilateral issues that include liberalising the visa regime, discussions on human and drug trafficking and exchange of information on terrorism.
Meanwhile, union finance minister P. Chidambaram, who is camping in Ahmedabad, strongly refuted Mr. Modi’s allegations. “Nobody is giving away Sir Creek to Pakistan,” he said, adding, “If anybody is suggesting that India is handing over Sir Creek to Pakistan, then it is a ridiculous suggestion.”
In Delhi, union information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari said, “It is outrageous that that the chief minister of Gujarat, in pursuit of his sectarian political regime has decided to turn a bilateral issue into political football. It just goes to show his desperation and complete willingness to abandon all propriety and responsibility on the eve of elections.”