PM consults his predecessors
By Harish Khare
NEW DELHI, JAN. 1. The Prime Minister, Mr. Atal Behari Vajpayee, today sought consultation with the former Prime Ministers and a former President on the fast-changing geo-strategic situation after the December 13 attack on Parliament House. Besides the former President, Mr. R. Venkataraman, those who attended the luncheon gathering at the Prime Minister's residence were Mr. V.P. Singh, Mr. Chandra Shekhar, Mr. P.V. Narasimha Rao, Mr. H.D. Deve Gowda and Mr. I.K. Gujral.
The leaders learnt about what the Government has done so far to meet the terrorists' challenge. They were also told about the diplomatic efforts being made to make Pakistan see reason. The Union Home Minister, Mr. L.K. Advani, was also present.
This was the first time such an interaction took place, and one of the former Prime Ministers is reported to have jokingly suggested to Mr. Vajpayee that it could become an annual affair. However, there was no talk of the former Prime Ministers leading delegations to various countries as part of the suggested ``diplomatic offensive.''
Today's move is being described as part of a larger exercise being undertaken by the Vajpayee regime to mobilise domestic opinion behind the Government. Mr. Vajpayee last week held detailed interaction with the leaders of the leading political parties where the Government apparently received the Opposition's endorsement for its tough approach.
Nonetheless, at least two of the luncheon guests - Mr. Chandra Shekhar and Mr. Deve Gowda - have publicly cautioned the Vajpayee Government against beating the war drums a bit too loudly.
However, while the Government did not discuss its future options with the former Prime Ministers, one of the participants came back with the impression that considerable store was being set by the American pressure on Islamabad. The arrest of extremists by the Musharraf regime is being appreciated. The possibility of extreme action of an armed conflict appear to have dimmed considerably, just as the option of ``hot pursuit'' is not considered as a feasible proposition at all.
Another participant came back with the impression that there could still be ``opportunities'' for the Prime Minister and the Pakistani President during the SAARC summit later this week in Kathmandu, especially now that it appears that Mr. Vajpayee is going to stay for the entire summit. While formal ``negotiations'' are certainly not part of the script, no one should be surprised if the two leaders end up having an informal tete-a-tete, especially during the ``retreat''.
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