On eve of budget session, Shinde 'regrets' saffron terror remarks

Sushilkumar Shinde
Exactly a month after his remarks on "saffron terror" had the BJP up in arms, Home minister Sushil Kumar Shinde expressed regret on Wednesday, buying peace with the Opposition party on the eve of the Budget Session of Parliament. The BJP had earlier threatened to disrupt Parliament if Shinde did not issue an apology.

In his statement today, Shinde clarified that he did not wish to link any organisation or religious group with terror. "My statement given in Jaipur last month had created a misunderstanding. It has been understood to mean that I was linking terrorism to a particular religion and was accusing certain organisations of being involved in organising terror camps," he said.

"I had no intention to link terrorism with any religion. There is no basis for suggesting that terrorism could be linked with the organisations mentioned in my brief speech at Japur. Since a controversy has been created on account of my statement, I am issuing this clarification and expressing regret to those who felt hurt by my statement," he added.

He was referring to his remarks at a party meeting in Jaipur on January 20, where he had said "reports have come during investigation that BJP and RSS conduct terror training camps to spread terrorism". He had later called it "saffron terrorism".

Shinde's statement today followed his meeting with Leader of the Opposition in the Lok Sabha Sushma Swaraj and Parliamentary Affairs Minister Kamal Nath earlier in the day. Sources said they jointly worked out a broad formulation which formed the basis of the Home minister's statement.

The three leaders went into a huddle immediately after an all-party meeting called by Speaker Meira Kumar, where Swaraj took a tough line on the issue. "As the custodian of the House, we seek your protection as the Home minister, who is also Leader of the House, has alleged that the BJP is running terror camps... If we are doing so, then I have no right to be the Leader of Opposition and BJP members should not be allowed to sit in the House...We should be probed," Swaraj told Meira Kumar, adding that Shinde should otherwise withdraw his remarks and tender an apology.

According to sources, Shinde seemed inclined to mollify the BJP ahead of the Budget Session.

With Shinde expressing regret today, the Opposition indicated that it would allow Parliament to function. Swaraj said they wanted a discussion on several issues including the VVIP chopper scam, India-Pakistan relations in the backdrop of beheading of two Indian soldiers, the Maldives situation and Maharashtra drought.

The same issues were flagged by NDA convenor Sharad Yadav and BJP deputy leader Gopinath Munde after a meeting of the Opposition alliance.

Yadav said the NDA would raise the chopper scam issue in the Lok Sabha at 12 noon on Friday. The BJP is likely to field either Yashwant Sinha or Jaswant Singh to put forth its view. The Opposition's strategy is to effectively highlight the wrongdoing, but avoid getting either too shrill or going after any individual without sufficient evidence.

In a bid to pre-empt the Opposition attack, the government has already offered an inquiry into the scam. "The government is willing to have any type of inquiry for which there is a political consensus," said Nath.

On the Suryanelli rape case, the BJP plans to support the Left when it takes on Rajya Sabha Deputy Chairman P J Kurien. The government seems inclined to support Kurien. "Kurien's case is very clear...He has been cleared by the Supreme Court... We will not agree to hold a discussion in any House on a subject of state politics," said Nath.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh hoped that the session would see a "productive and constructive debate leading to agreed solutions" to many national problems. Noting that all parties have an obligation to ensure that Parliament runs smoothly, he said: "I am hopeful and confident that this is going to be a fruitful session."

Among those who attended today's all-party meeting were: Deputy Speaker Karia Munda, T K S Elangovan (DMK), Basudeb Acharia (CPI-M), Sharifuddin Shariq (NC), P Kumar (AIADMK), Sudip Bandyopadhyay (Trinamool Congress), Lalu Prasad Yadav (RJD) and E Ahamed (IUML).

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