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NEW DELHI: Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s conspiracy theory about a dinner meeting between Indians and Pakistanis, including former prime minister Manmohan Singh and High Commissioner Sohail Mahmood, has angered Dr Singh who on Monday demanded that Mr Modi apologise to the nation for defaming senior officials with lies.

At an election rally in Gujarat, Mr Modi had suggested that Dr Singh and others held a ‘secret meeting’ with Pakistani officials at suspended Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar’s residence to ‘influence’ the outcome of the Gujarat elections.

The dinner was prompted by the presence of former foreign minister Khurshid Mahmood Kasuri in Delhi, a close friend of Mr Aiyer.

“I am deeply pained and anguished by the falsehood and canards being spread to score political points in a lost cause by none less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi."

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"Fearing imminent defeat in Gujarat, desperation of [the] prime minister to hurl every abuse and latch on to every straw is palpable. Sadly and regrettably, Shri Modi is setting a dangerous precedent by his insatiable desire to tarnish every constitutional office, including that of a former prime minister and army chief,” Dr Singh said in a statement.

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley, a close aide to Mr Modi, mocked Dr Singh’s demand for an apology and said the Congress should give details of what transpired at the meeting.

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Mr Jaitley did not say why Mr Kasuri was given a visa, in these days of visa drought, if he was not supposed to meet his Indian and Pakistani friends in Delhi.

The Congress Party needed no sermons on ‘nationalism’ from any party and Mr Modi, “whose compromised track record on fighting terrorism is well known,” Dr Singh said. Mr Modi had “gone to Pakistan uninvited after the terrorist attacks in Udhampur and Gurdaspur,” he pointed out.

Let him also tell the country the reason for inviting the ISI to the strategic air base in Pathankot to investigate a terror attack, Dr Singh said.

“I reject the innuendos and falsehoods as I did not discuss Gujarat elections with anyone else at the dinner hosted by Shri Mani Shankar Aiyar as alleged by Shri Modi. Nor was the Gujarat issue raised by anyone else present at the dinner. The discussion was confined to India-Pakistan relations."

“I sincerely hope that Prime Minister (Modi) will show the maturity and gravitas expected of the high office he holds instead of concentrating his energy solely on erroneously conceived brownie points. I sincerely hope that he will apologise to the nation for his ill-thought transgression, to restore the dignity of the office he occupies,” Dr Singh said.

Former vice president Hamid Ansari, former high commissioners to Pakistan K. Natwar Singh, Sharad Sabharwal, K.S. Bajpai, Satinder Lambah and TCA

Raghavan, former army chief Deepak Kapoor, Pakistan High Commissioner to India Sohail Mahmood, and senior journalists were among those present at Mr Aiyar’s residence for dinner and discussion on India-Pakistan relations.

At an election rally in Gujarat, Mr Modi suggested that Pakistan was trying to influence the course of elections in Gujarat and referred to the ‘meeting’ at Mr Aiyar’s residence.

Elections in Gujarat end on Thursday. Results for Gujarat and Himachal Pradesh assemblies are expected on Dec 18.

Published in Dawn, December 12th, 2017