NEW DELHI: Pakistani authorities did not allow entry of Indian media persons, including those from PTI and Doordarshan, inside the venue of 7th SAARC Home Ministers Meeting in Islamabad, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said today.
Responding to questions in Rajya Sabha after making a suo motu statement on yesterday’s conference, the Minister also said that after the meeting was over, Pakistan’s Home Minister, who was the host, invited the participants for lunch but left in a car soon thereafter.
“Keeping in mind the country’s prestige, I did what I should have done. I have no complaints. I had not gone there for lunch,” he said amid thumping of benches by members.
He also said he was “hesitant to say if the hosts were courteous… I don’t want to comment on it. I have no qualms or complaints”. The Minister also said “India is known globally for its ‘meheman nawaazi (hospitality).”
Several members had appreciated Singh for “boycotting” the lunch and criticized Pakistan for not showing due courtesy to the visiting Indian Home Minister.
To queries whether there was no telecast of his speech, Singh said he was not aware of the convention and would need to ask the Ministry of External Affairs regarding it.
“Since I was giving speech, I did not see if it was live telecast or not. But this is true that Doordarshan, ANI and PTI reporters were not given permission to enter inside (the venue)”, he said as members condemned it by chanting “shame, shame”.
Rajya Sabha members also criticized Pakistan for allowing protest against India and the visit of Singh.
The Minister said as per the original plan, he had to reach the hotel by road from Rawalpindi airbase, but probably security officials later decided to use helicopter.
“I saw people were protesting at several places in groups of 10-25 or 100,” he said, adding “had I bothered about the protest, I probably wouldn’t have gone to Pakistan”. Singh also said he did not register any protest against these protests.
Reports had said that members of the Indian media, which went from New Delhi to report the conference, were not allowed to enter the venue and kept at a distance by Pakistani officials, leading to a verbal duel between a senior Indian official and a Pakistani official.
The Home Minister also skipped the official lunch as the host had left the venue, the reports had said.
Recalling former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s statement that one can change friends but not neighbors, Singh said Prime Minister Narendra Modi and his predecessor Manmohan Singh have expressed sympathy with Pakistan as it too has been a “victim of terror”.
He said all Prime Ministers have made efforts to improve relations with neighbors.
“But the dilemma is…padosi hai ki maanta hi nahi (the neighbor is not ready to change)…May God give sense to all”, he said evoking laughter in the House.
Earlier Leader of Opposition Ghulam Nabi Azad, seeking clarification on Singh’s statement, said his Congress party and ruling BJP may have differences, but when the Prime Minister or the Home Minister travel abroad, they are one.
He sought to know if local TV channels did not cover the Home Minister’s visit and his statements and there was a media blackout.
He also sought to know whether protocol was not extended to him in accordance with India’s standing among SAARC nations and the host being absent at his reception and added if all this was true, it was condemnable.
Subramanian Swamy (BJP) wanted to know if Singh took up with his Pakistani counterpart the “daily retort by their Prime Minister about disintegrating” India and Kashmir.
He wanted to know if he suggested to Pakistanis to take care of problems in their own backyard.
Derek O’Brien (TMC) wanted to know if the Indian media including official media DD were not given access to the Home Minister’s speech which was blacked out.
He also wanted to know if this was the first instance of blackout or is there a precedence.
Asked whether paramilitary forces should be given a free hand to deal with terrorists, the Home Minister said that BSF has been asked to maintain “patience, but if a bullet is fired, then they do not need to seek permission for how they have to respond. This is the standing order”.
All members who spoke in the House appreciated Singh for his bold statement in Pakistan.
Mayawati (BSP) wanted to know if India would review its policy towards Pakistan, while Ram Gopal Yadav (SP) suggested that BSF should be given free hand to deal with terrorists at borders.
Senior JD (U) leader Sharad Yadav criticized Pakistan for not following protocol while the Indian Home Minister was visiting there. He also wanted to know if there was a blackout of his speech.
A Navneethakrishnan (AIADMK) too criticized Pakistan for not showing courtesy to the visiting dignitary, while Majeed Menon (NCP) condemned the neighboring country for allowing protest against India. “It was a good decision to boycott the lunch,” he said.
D Raja (CPI) wanted to know how India is going to engage with Pakistan, while Kanimozhi (DMK) drew attention of the House towards some youngsters joining terror groups.
Senior Congress leader Anand Sharma asked the Home Minister if there were any assurances on stopping drug smuggling and terror financing through money earned through these channels.–PTI