Sharif 'remark': Modi fans a row that never was

Nawaz Sharif

In the run-up to Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's meeting with his Pakistan counterpart Nawaz Sharif Sunday, played out a media drama that wasn't.

Even worse, it was picked up by the BJP's PM candidate and Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi and portrayed as a prestige issue while all that had happened was Sharif complaining about Singh raising Pakistan with US President Barack Obama, in an off-the-record breakfast meeting with select journalists.

A rattled Sharif got Pakistan Foreign Secretary Jalil Abbas Jilani to call up National Security Advisor Shivshankar Menon, who is in New York with the PM, to convey that he had never insulted Singh.

Later, Pakistani journalists who were present at the breakfast, backed up Sharif's claims. "Sharif saheb never said anything like a dehaati woman for Prime Minister Singh. He only used an anecdote to make the point that when India and Pakistan can talk to each other, then why complain to Obama, and that too about the Punjab government's funding to Jamat-ud Dawa," said Absar Alam, an Aaj TV anchorperson.

By his account and that of other journalists, Sharif related a small story about a room full of sleeping men in a village. One of them got up and started offering prayers to Allah. And he then began complaining about how others were asleep while he was awake and praying. At that point, one of the others in the room woke up and told the man to pray for himself and not complain about the others.

"Sharif was only trying to make the point that Singh could have his talks with Obama, but why bring up Pakistan? It was a harmless story, spoken off-the-record and in good humour," added Alam.

The drama started when another Pakistani journalist, Geo TV's Hamid Mir, made a reference to Singh being like "a woman from dehaat (rural areas)" pleading for help from god. He seemed to attribute it to Sharif, but later — in a bid to put matters to rest before the bilateral meeting began — retracted on Twitter, saying the Pakistan PM did not make any "derogatory" remarks about his Indian counterpart.

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