The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Friday again attacked former vice president Hamid Ansari over his alleged links with Pakistani journalist Nusrat Mirza. The latter has recently claimed to have visited India five times during the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) rule and passed on sensitive information collected here to his country's spy agency Inter-Services Intelligence (ISI).
Stepping up its attack on the Congress, the BJP today cited a photograph of Ansari and Mirza purportedly sharing the stage during a 2009 conference in India on terrorism. Meanwhile, rubbishing these claims, Ansari said he stands by his previous statement that he never knew or invited Mirza to any conference as cited by the BJP. "The former Vice President of India stands by his earlier statement that he never knew or invited Pakistan journalist Nusrat Mirza to any conference, including the 2010 conference mentioned by Nusrat Mirza or 2009 conference on terrorism or on any other occasion," a statement from Ansari's office said.
Here is a timeline of the controversy:
July 10: Nusrat Mirza appeared on a Pakistani YouTube show 'The Critical Patriot' and claimed to have spied for the ISI. He said he attended events in India between 2005-2011 and handed over the information he collected to the then Pakistan Army’s chief General Ashfaq Parvez Kayani. In an interview, Mirza purportedly said that he had visited India on Hamid Ansari’s invitations and also met him.
July 13: The BJP asked Ansari and the Congress to come clean on the claims of the Pakistani journalist. "If Congress leaders Sonia and Rahul Gandhi besides the then vice president remain silent to the questions raised by the ruling party, it will amount to their admission to these 'sins'," BJP spokesperson Gaurav Bhatia said. "People of India are giving you so much respect and you are betraying the country. Isn't this treason? Sonia Gandhi, Rahul and Hamid Ansari should come out and reply to this," he added.
July 13: Ansari dismissed this charge as a “litany of falsehood”. In his rebuttal, Ansari said, "It is a known fact that invitations to foreign dignitaries by the Vice-President of India are on the advice of the government generally through the Ministry of External Affairs. "I had inaugurated the Conference on Terrorism, on December 11, 2010, the 'International Conference of Jurists on International Terrorism and Human Rights'. As is the normal practice, the list of invitees would have been drawn by the organisers. I never invited him or met him," added Ansari.
July 13: The Congress also strongly condemned the "insinuations and innuendos" by the BJP against party chief Sonia Gandhi and former vice president Hamid Ansari, saying it amounts to character assassination of the worst form. Congress general secretary Jairam Ramesh said in a statement that the level that the Prime Minister and his party colleagues will "stoop to debase public debate is staggering". He said the "sinuations and innuendos by a spokesperson of the BJP against Sonia Gandhi and Hamid Ansari, are character assassination of the worst form" and are to be condemned "in the strongest possible language".
July 14: Adish Aggarwala, the organiser of the 2010 seminar, shared an image purportedly showing Ansari sharing the stage with Mirza at an event organised by the Jama Masjid United Front in October 2009. He said an He said an official in the Vice-President Secretariat requested him on Ansari’s behalf to invite the Mirza for the conference at Vigyan Bhawan in New Delhi.
July 14: The Ministry of External Affairs steered clear of the controversy, saying it does not want to comment on the issue. MEA spokesperson Arindam Bagchi said, "I have seen some media reports but I cannot comment on it. I don't have the details about the media report and it is uncorroborated. I would not like to comment on both the points."
July 15: The BJP cited a photograph shared by Aggarwala in which Mirza and Ansari are purportedly seen sharing the stage. Addressing a press conference at the BJP headquarters, Bhatia said people holding constitutional posts should act responsibly and should have not shared the stage with Mirza. Hitting out at the Congress, Bhatia said intelligence clearance is required for holding such programmes and inviting dignitaries from abroad.
July 15: Ansari asserted that he stands by his previous statement that he never knew or invited the Pakistani journalist. "The former Vice President of India stands by his earlier statement that he never knew or invited Pakistan journalist Nusrat Mirza to any conference, including the 2010 conference mentioned by Nusrat Mirza or 2009 conference on terrorism or on any other occasion," a statement from Ansari's office said.
(With input from agencies)