Today's Paper

Opposition backs Govt. on diplomatic offensive

The Congress president, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr. Pramod Mahajan, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, at the all-party meet in New Delhi on Sunday. - Photo: Rajeev Bhatt

The Congress president, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, the Parliamentary Affairs Minister, Mr. Pramod Mahajan, and the Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, at the all-party meet in New Delhi on Sunday. - Photo: Rajeev Bhatt  

NEW DELHI, DEC. 30. The Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, today managed to mobilise the Opposition leaders behind his ``let-us-first-exhaust-the-diplomatic-options'' strategy against Pakistan. Almost all the major Opposition parties at the all-party meeting were keen to be seen as cautiously siding with the Government in its efforts to cope with the terrorist threat in the post-December 13 scenario.

Barring very minor notes of reservation, the Opposition appeared to be satisfied with the Government's explanations and briefs on the developments so far. While they impressed upon the Government to give maximum scope to diplomatic measures, they also cautioned against loose talk from the ministerial quarters.

The Prime Minister took care to set the mood of unity by asking the Defence Minister, Mr. George Fernandes, to stay away; the Opposition parties have so far not ``recognised'' Mr. Fernandes's return to the Cabinet.

The Opposition's endorsement today of the ``diplomacy-first'' strategy should enable Mr. Vajpayee to rebuff the hawks within the Sangh Parivar and his Cabinet as well as to bring a value-addition to the Government's interaction with the international community. In fact, the Government appeared receptive to the suggestion that senior leaders from the Opposition should lead delegations to various capitals to explain India's stand.

Among those who attended the meeting included the Leader of the Opposition, Ms. Sonia Gandhi, Dr. Manmohan Singh (Cong.), Mr. Harkishen Singh Surjeet (CPI-M), Mr. A.B. Bardhan (CPI), Ms. Mamata Banerjee (Trinamool Congress), Mr. P.H. Pandian (AIADMK), Mr. P.A. Sangma (NCP), Mr. Ramgopal Yadav (Samajwadi Party), Mr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh (RJD), and Mr. Sushil Indora (INLD). The Government was represented by the Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, the External Affairs Minister, Mr. Jaswant Singh, the Finance Minister, Mr. Yashwant Sinha, the Minister for Parliamentary Affairs, Mr. Pramod Mahajan, and the National Security Adviser, Mr. Brajesh Mishra. The thrust of the discussion was summed up by Dr. Manmohan Singh who told reporters that ``we are fully in support of the measures that the Government is taking to deal with the current situation.'' However, the Opposition leaders were informed by Mr. Jaswant Singh that the country's military build-up was in response to Pakistan's initiatives and was purely in the nature of a defensive deployment.

According to Mr. Mahajan, the Opposition leaders appreciated the Government's efforts so far and lauded the diplomatic strategy for the future outlined by Mr. Jaswant Singh. The Opposition wanted the Government to step up the diplomatic offensive to impress upon the international community the need to urge Pakistan to give up using terrorism as a tool of state policy.

Mr. Surjeet, however, did warn against relying too much on the U.S., which, according to him, remained tilted in favour of Pakistan. He also objected to Mr. Vajpayee's Ministers talking uninhibitedly about the possibility of a war.

The only contrary note was stuck by Mr. Raghuvansh Prasad Singh who urged the Government not to politicise the fight against terrorism. He questioned the impression being given that ``the BJP alone was keen on fighting terrorists''.

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