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Non-apology: PM graceless

Finance Minister and leader of the House in the Rajya Sabha Arun Jaitley has stated in the Upper House that Prime Minister Narendra Modi's comments about his predecessor Manmohan Singh and former vice president Hamid Ansari during the Gujarat election campaign "did not question, nor (was) meant to question the commitment to this nation of either former prime minister Manmohan Singh or former vice president Hamid Ansari". The statement fell well short of an apology, and it was all the more worthless because the man who made the insulting comments did not himself muster the grace or courage to stand up and say so. Instead, Jaitley had to do it for him. In a response that showed far more grace than that, Congress's House leader said: "We respect the sentiment expressed by the leader of the House. From our party, I can also say that we don't believe in demeaning the post of prime minister. We totally disassociate ourselves from comments made against the prime minister."

Jaitley's statement, made with good intent, also fell well short of the truth. The prime minister's comment in Gujarat, amounting to all but calling Manmohan Singh a participant in a Pakistani conspiracy against Modi, was not the first time he has hurled insults at the former PM. At various times, Modi has called Singh a weak prime minister, a scamster, and much else. Indeed, when he was Gujarat chief minister, almost every public speech of his was laced with anecdotes, many of them fictional, aimed at belittling Singh while lionising himself. After becoming prime minister, too, he hasn't been able to avoid the temptation of ridiculing Singh even inside Parliament. His sarcasm-filled "farewell" to former vice president Hamid Ansari still leaves a bitter taste in the mouth. Modi has often shown himself to be graceless in dealing with political and ideological rivals, but the remarks against the former PM during the Gujarat elections hit the nadir.

Modi's remark that Singh was conspiring with Pakistan against him was a desperate attempt to polarise voters and win what had evidently become a tough election for him in his home state. Yet, a prime minister cannot speak worse than this about a well-respected predecessor, all of whose major policies he himself has continued. Never before has an Indian prime minister stooped so low as to create doubts in the minds of people about a former prime minister, a former vice president and even a former army chief. That too, just to win an election. No election victory is worth undermining the quality of democracy, discourse and one's own decency.

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