"How dare you (Sharif) address my nation's Prime Minister as a village woman? There cannot be a bigger insult of the Indian Prime Minister. We can fight with him on policies but this we will not tolerate. This nation of 1.2 billion will not tolerate its Prime Minister's insult," Modi said.

The controversy has its roots in a comment by a well-known Pakistani journalist Hamid Mir on Geo TV that Sharif had used this description "dehati aurat" (village woman) during a breakfast meeting with him and NDTV's Barkha Dutt on Saturday while expressing his unhappiness that Singh complained to US President Barack Obama about Sharif on Pakistan.

However, Dutt on Twitter said, "this (Mir's version) is a distortion entirely" and that Sharif said "nothing of this kind".

Dutt said there were bits in the interaction that were off the record. Secondly, this is distortion even of the off the record, she said.

She went on to add that the bits that were off record did not include any pejorative word about the Prime Minister. In a series of tweets, she said that Sharif had told an allegorical tale about a dispute between two villagers, one of them a woman. The story ended with how fights should be settled among themselves. Sharif's account was all about how disputes should not involve third parties.

Mir in the programme quoted Sharif as saying, "It seems as if Manmohan Singh went to complain to Obama about me like a 'dehati aurat'.

Modi, who made an issue of the comments, said, "The journalists who were sitting in front of Nawaz Sharif when he was insulting our Prime Minister should also answer to the people of my country".

"I want to ask those journalists, I don't know who were they but journalists of my country who were having sweets sitting with Nawaz Sharif when he was abusing our Prime Minister calling him village woman, I expected those Indian journalists, the country expected them, to refuse the sweets and walk out," he said.

Mir later tweeted that Dutt had left the venue to bring her camera and that she was not present all the time during the interaction. "It's not a big issue let's hope for the best," he said.

The Pakistani journalist also clarified that Sharif had not said anything derogatory against Singh. He went on to state that Sharif had shared a joke with them about Singh but did not elaborate.

The two journalists tried to put a lid on the controversy barely a few hours before Singh and Sharif were to meet on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly.

Wading into the row, another Pakistani journalist Absar Alam, director of Aaj TV, who was also present during the breakfast meeting, disputed Mir's version. "PM Nawaz Sharif never used the word Dehati Aurat, these words were never used," he said.

He said that Sharif made his displeasure known by citing a anecdotal story. "The story goes like this – after a party all people sleep in a hall. One of them wakes up next morning and starts praying. In his prayers he says Allah! Look I am praying to you while all these others are sleeping. Some other person woke up and heard him. He told him why do not you concentrate on your prayers instead of complaining against us," Alam quoted Sharif as saying.

Sharif had said that India being the big brother and Singh being respectable PM, he should have talked about his own country with Obama and not complained about Pakistan, Alam said.

Sharif later told the Indian channel that Singh "is a good man" and during his first meeting with the Indian leader he will renew Pakistan's invitation to him to visit that country.

Asked about the recent LoC incidents in Jammu and Kashmir, Sharif said Pakistan has proposed that military and foreign office personnel of the two countries jointly investigate this issue or it can be referred to the UN for independent inquiry. Meanwhile, in New York, Mir said that Prime Minister Sharif did not use these words.

"But the Prime Minister (Sharif) said why should Prime Minister Singh complain to President (Barack) Obama. If he has any complaints he should tell me," Mir said.

(Agencies)

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