With Islamabad allowing suspected Mumbai attacks mastermind Hafiz Mohammad Saeed to walk free, the government today came in for sharp attack in the Lok Sabha from almost the entire opposition, which said it had exposed India's handling of the issue of terror emanating from Pakistan.
The National Democratic Alliance led by the BJP, the Samajwadi Party, and the Rashtriya Janata Dal (RJD) all came together in the House to demand a statement by prime minister Manmohan Singh or external affairs minister SM Krishna on the "serious development" which had hurt "India's self-respect", but when no assurance came, they staged a walkout. The Samajwadi Party and the RJD are supporting the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government from outside.
The indefinite postponement yesterday by the Supreme Court of Pakistan of the hearing of a petition filed by the Punjab provincial government against the release of Saeed, chief of the Jamaat-ud Daawa, was raised by Samajwadi Party chief Mulayam Singh Yadav during zero hour. Yadav was instantly supported by the BJP, Shiv Sena, Janata Dal (United), and RJD.
Demanding an immediate response from the government on the development, members from these parties created an uproar that led to the adjournment of the House for half an hour.
When the House reassembled, leader of the opposition LK Advani said the government had described Saeed as the mastermind of 26/11, which was "like an attack on India", but Pakistan had scrapped legal proceedings against him.
Advani referred to comments by Krishna to a newspaper that the prosecution of Saeed is an "acid test" and talks with Pakistan would be futile till Pakistan acts against him and dismantles the terror infrastructure in the country.
Advani also pointed out that Krishna had said that till Pakistan acts, there would be no meaning to talks between the neighbours, no matter how many times the prime ministers, foreign ministers, or foreign secretaries meet.
"This statement amounts to contradicting the statement by the prime minister who has agreed to delink terror from dialogue [in the Indo-Pak joint statement issued at Sharm el-Sheikh last month]. I will be happy if he did [contradict the prime minister]," the BJP leader said, taking a dig at Manmohan Singh.
"I demand that the prime minister or the external affairs minister should give a clarification in the House," he said at a time when neither Singh nor leader of the house Pranab Mukherjee was present.
After Advani, RJD chief Lalu Prasad, JD(U) leader Sharad Yadav, and Congress member Sanjay Nirupam also spoke on the issue, which turned into a virtual debate during which uproarious scenes and clashes between the treasury and opposition benches were witnessed.
Advani sought an assurance from the government about when Singh or Krishna would respond. Speaker Meira Kumar said she could not compel the government as it was a zero hour matter. Dissatisfied, Advani led a walkout by members of the NDA. Members of the Samajwadi Party and the RJD followed suit.
Earlier, Lalu Prasad supported Advani's contention, saying the BJP leader had talked about an important issue concerning the nation and "not any of his individual matters".
Trying to defend the government, Congress member Sanjay Nirupam said it was for the first time that India had put Pakistan in the dock and Islamabad had "actually acted". But he expressed unhappiness over Pakistan's inaction in Saeed's case and "demanded" that the government should maintain pressure on Islamabad so that the Jamaat chief is "re-arrested".
He stirred the proverbial hornet's next when he said that Pakistan is also a "victim" of terror as it is engaged in a fight against the Taliban in Swat and other areas, and hence a dialogue and sharing of intelligence would be advisable.
This comment led to an uproar with the BJP taking a swipe at Nirupam and asking why he was speaking in favour of Pakistan.
Defending his comment, Nirupam said he had described Pakistan as a "victim" of terrorism as it was facing terrorism from the Taliban and former prime minister Benazir Bhutto had been assassinated.
"Mai bhi rashtra bhakt hoon [I, too, am a patriot]. I was the first to go to the Taj Hotel after it was attacked [on 26/11]," he retorted in the face of the BJP's trenchant criticism.
Lalu Prasad, while underlining that everybody wants the government to take a tough line on terrorism from Pakistan and to clarify issues, said there is no harm in having a dialogue, but "we are getting bashed up [by terrorism emanating from Pakistan]."
Emphasising that the issue concerns India's "self-respect", Prasad said the government's handling of the issue is sending out a "wrong message" and causing "demoralisation" in the country.