‘Govt is hiding behind valour of armed forces’: Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh

Former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said his government had conducted “multiple surgical strikes” when it was in power, but did not believe in using them for “vote garnering”, and criticised the Narendra Modi-led government for its “unpardonable failures on the economic front” which is forcing it to “hide behind the valour of the armed forces,” a behaviour he termed “shameful and unacceptable”.

Singh, 86, a member of the Rajya Sabha, has been attacked during the ongoing election campaign by Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) president Amit Shah and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman for an inadequate response to 26/11, the terror strikes by Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT) in Mumbai that killed 166 people in 2008.

In a rare interview, Singh said that while India could have taken the military route after the Mumbai attacks in 2008, his United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government decided to “isolate and diplomatically expose Pakistan as a terror hub”.

“Within 14 days of the Mumbai attack, we got China to agree to declare (LeT chief) Hafiz Saeed as a global terrorist. The UPA ensured that a $10 million bounty was placed on the head of the Mumbai attack perpetrator and the founder of Pakistan-based LeT by America,” he added.

HT spoke to several serving and retired army officers who confirmed that there had indeed been several cross-border operations before 2014.

“However, the difference is that the previous regime did not talk about the targeted operations. This government took ownership of the strikes and announced to the world that India would pursue terrorists beyond its boundaries,” one of them said on condition of anonymity.

The Modi government has disclosed details of two strikes, one on September 29, 2016 after the Uri terror attack and another, an air strike, on February 26, after the Pulwama terror attack. It has also made national security one of the main talking points of its current election campaign, which has also sought to portray the response of the Congress-led UPA to such attacks as weak. The campaign has also sought to project Modi as a strong, decisive leader compared to his predecessors other than Indira Gandhi.

In a counter-charge, Singh said that when his government suggested a coastal security mechanism via the National Counter Terrorism Centre, it was then Gujarat chief minister Modi who opposed the idea. He also dismissed the comparison and said Indira Gandhi and Lal Bahadur Shastri were “determined, decisive” leaders.

“There cannot be any comparison between their greatness and the pettiness of the present regime… Neither Mrs Gandhi nor her predecessor took away the credit of our armed forces” in the 1971 or 1965 wars with Pakistan, Singh said.

BJP spokespersons declined to react to the former PM’s comments.

On the day Hindustan Times met with him, Singh was to meet with a team of party managers to chalk out his campaign strategy. There is talk of a road show in Delhi too for the former Prime Minister, but Singh rules out being part of government if the Congress wins and if Rahul Gandhi becomes Prime Minister. “Time has come to pass the leadership mantle to the young,’’ he said, although adding that he would continue to serve in public life.

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