Eyebrows went up in the Rajya Sabha on Thursday when newly-elected BJP member Ram Jethmalani praised External Affairs Minister S M Krishna for showing "dignity" in the face of critical remarks of his Pakistani counterpart Shah Mahmood Qureshi about Home Secretary G K Pillai at a joint press conference last month.
Jethmalani's praise came close on the heels of an attack by his party colleague M Venkaiah Naidu, who accused Krishna of not having defended Pillai when Qureshi compared him to Lashkar-e Taiba chief Hafiz Saeed at their press conference in Islamabad on July 15.
"He (Qureshi) criticised Home Secretary but you kept quiet. After coming back (to India) you addressed a press conference. When Pakistan Foreign Minister criticised our Home Secretary and equated him with a terrorist (Saeed), you did not respond. A wrong message has gone," Naidu told Krishna while raising supplementaries during the question hour.
The BJP leader was reflecting the party's position which it has been articulating ever since the July 15 press conference accusing him of not not putting forth India's point of view on the spot.
Jethamalani, who got up to put his supplementary, surprised both his colleagues and those on the other side when he lavished praise on Krishna. Krishna maintained "dignity" and his "demeanour displayed the cultural superiority of India", Jethmalani said and then proceeded to put his question.
"I do wish to take the opportunity of complimenting and congratulating the Foreign Minister for the extraordinary posture of impressive dignity and the manners you have exhibited which incidentally does credit to our cultural and civilisational superiority," he said.
The words of the veteran parliamentarian, who returned to BJP only recently to get elected to Rajya Sabha, were lapped up by members of the treasury benches, including Minister Jairam Ramesh, who were seen happily thumping the desks.
BJP members, including the Leader of the Opposition Arun Jaitley, were visibly uncomfortable at one of their MPs praising Krishna's handling of the situation.
In his response, Krishna said it was "ridiculous" to compare Pillai with a "terrorist like Hafiz Saeed" but he "did not want to get into slanging match (with Qureshi). So there was no point talking on the same lines. And I treat it with contempt that it deserves." He said "the comparisons were being made by a respectable foreign minister of a friendly country like Pakistan."
"The Home Secretary is one of the most distinguished and responsible civil servants. I have the highest respect for him. But I still feel that the timing of the statement...
"as per my sources there was some mishap between a newspaper and the Home Secretary. However, whatever David Headley (LeT operative) told FBI, matches what Home Secretary had said," the minister told the House. Later, speaking to reporters outside Parliament, Jethmalani defended his praise of Krishna.
"I am what I am," he said when pointed out that he had taken a position contrary to that of his party.
He repeated that Krishna had established "cultural superiority" of India by not objecting to Qureshi's remarks at their joint press meet. PTI