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`Why was the Government silent on strip-searching?'

By Our Special Correspondent

NEW DELHI, JULY 12. The Congress and the Communist Party of India (Marxist) today took serious objection to the silence of the previous National Democratic Alliance Government on the issue of the former Defence Minister, George Fernandes, being strip-searched on two occasions when he had visited the United States in 2002 and 2003.

The Congress demanded that the details be made public as to whether the then Vajpayee Government had taken up the matter with the United States Government, while the CPI(M) termed it a "sign of the servile attitude'' of the BJP-led Government towards the U.S.

Reacting to a news report on the issue following a revelation in a book by a former Clinton administration official, Strobe Talbot, the Congress spokesperson, Anand Sharma, said regardless of the differences the party had with Mr. Fernandes, the fact that the American authorities strip-searched him was an "insult to the nation.''

Mr. Sharma also sought to know what was the response of the then Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajpayee. "Why did he keep quiet for over two-and-a-half years?'' he wanted to know

The Congress said the fact that it took place during a regime that claimed there had been an improvement in ties with the U.S. was a matter of concern. The party sought to know whether the Vajpayee Government had taken it up with the U.S. at an official level and if not, what were the reasons.

The Bharatiya Janata Party described the incident as "highly objectionable'' but refused to go beyond its response. Replying to a volley of questions, the party spokesman, Vijay Kumar Malhotra, said he was not aware of the official response of the then Vajpayee Government. Asked what about the "swabhiman" (pride) of India, Mr. Malhotra said that "it was hurt.

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