New Delhi, Dec 12: The Government today took on former premier Manmohan Singh over his meeting with Pakistani diplomats by questioning its context shortly after he demanded an apology from his successor Narendra Modi for insinuating that he colluded with Islamabad in the Gujarat polls.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley ruled out an apology from the prime minister and accused Singh of defying the national line and demanded to know the context, relevance and necessity of attending a dinner hosted by Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar for a visiting Pakistani dignitary at his home here last week that was attended by Pakistani diplomats among others.
Jaitley's remarks came after a rare row between a sitting and a former premier broke out with Manmohan Singh accusing his successor of setting a "dangerous precedent" and asking his apology.
Launching a sharp counteroffensive, Singh attacked Modi over what he called the prime minister's "ill-thought transgression" and rejected his charge as "innuendos and falsehoods".
In uncharacteristically strong words, a usually reticent Singh crossed swords with his predecessor to say the Gujarat polls was never raised by anyone present at the dinner and that the discussion was confined to India-Pakistan ties.
Terming the meeting as "political misadventure", Jaitley wanted Singh and Congress party to explain the context of attending the dinner.
He said the national policy, which the main opposition party is also expected to follow, is that terror and talks cannot go hand-in-hand.
"Is the main opposition party not part of the State?" he asked.
Jaitley stated if anyone defies the national line, he should be prepared to answer questions.
"It is a political misadventure, it has a political cost," he said.
Jaitley addressed a press conference hours after Singh asked the prime minister to apologise to the nation for setting a "dangerous precedent".
In reponse to Singh's demand for apology, Jaitley said people who have violated national policy of talks and terror not going hand in hand should apologise.
Addressing an election rally in Palanpur in Gujarat yesterday, Modi sought to suggest that Pakistan was trying to influence the assembly polls in the state. The second and final phase of Assembly polls in Gujarat is to be held on December 14.
Modi claimed that some Pakistani officials and Manmohan Singh met at Aiyar's house over dinner on December 6. This was a day before Aiyar's "neech" jibe against Modi that led to his suspension from the party.
Singh issued a statement today, listing those who attended the dinner hosted in honour of former Pakistan foreign minister Khurshid Mahmud Kasuri.
He said besides himself and former vice president Hamid Ansari, others present at the dinner were the Pakistan High Commissioner, Natwar Singh, K S Bajpai, Ajai Shukla, Sharad Sabharwal, Gen Deepak Kapoor, TCA Raghavan, Satinder K Lambah, M K Bhadrakumar, CR Gharekhan, Prem Shankar Jha, Salman Haider and Rahul Khushwant Singh.
"None of them could be accused of indulging in any anti- national activities," he said.
Lambah, a former diplomat, was quoted as having said he does not comment on private dinners. He, however, said there was just a general discussion on Indo-Pak relations.
Gharekhan, another former diplomat said, said the invitees were talking about the relations between India and Pakistan.
"But nobody, if I recall....I am hundred per cent sure that, not a single person, talked about Gujarat elections or anything about the present situation... or for that matter, the present situation in Pakistan," he told NDTV.
"It was only about India-Pakistan relation, We didn't talk about any kind of politics."
Gen. Kapoor, a former Army Chief, was quoted as having said that Gujarat elections were never discussed at the dinner meeting.
Manmohan Singh said he did not discuss the Gujarat Assembly elections with anyone at the dinner meeting.
"I sincerely hope that Prime Minister 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 apologize to the Nation for his ill thought transgression to restore the dignity of the office he occupies," he said.
Singh said he was "deeply pained and anguished" by the "falsehood and canards" being spread to score political points by the prime minister in what he said was a "lost cause" in Gujarat.
"Fearing imminent defeat in Gujarat, desperation of Prime Minister to hurl every abuse and latch on to every straw is palpable. Sadly and regrettably, Sh. 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," he alleged.
The Congress Party, Singh said, needs no sermons on "nationalism" from a party and prime minister, whose "compromised" track record on fighting terrorism is well known, while reminding Modi of his "uninvited" visit to Pakistan after terrorist attacks in Udhampur and Gurdaspur.
"Let him also tell the country the reason for inviting the infamous ISI of Pakistan to our strategic Air Base in Pathankot to investigate a terror attack that emanated from Pakistan," he said.