The BJP sharpened its attack on the government, using Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi’s dismissal of an ordinance designed to protect convicted lawmakers even as all focus led to Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi’s rally in New Delhi today.
While the BJP has made Modi its prime ministerial face in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections in 2014, Gandhi is widely seen as the man Congress will pin its hopes on to retain power.
On Friday, Gandhi had described the ordinance as “complete nonsense”, jolting the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government and leaving Prime Minister Manmohan Singh out on a limb.
Gandhi’s remarks gave ammunition to the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which said on Saturday it just showed the PM as the “weakest ever” and also suggested that Gandhi did not have the wisdom and ability to occupy a responsible office.
The BJP, which had stepped up its offensive immediately after Gandhi trashed the piece of legislation steered by the PM and widely thought to have the backing of top Congress leaders, increased the tempo and again asked Singh to resign.
The saffron party also challenged UPA allies, who were part of the cabinet that cleared the ordinance, to say what they thought about Gandhi’s public outburst.
Senior BJP leader Arun Jaitley said if the PM did not respond to Gandhi’s attack, he would leave no legacy behind. Instead of leaving his footprints, Jaitley added, the PM would remain a footnote in history.
BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “The issue impinges upon the respect for the office of Prime Minister… Does Rahul Gandhi have even average understanding of national interest? That Rahul Gandhi whom Congress leaders project as a future Prime Minister...”
Prasad added, “Today I appeal to Dr Manmohan Singh. Come on Dr Singh, do you have any conscience left? The issue is not you but the office of Prime Minister.”
Suggesting that there was a deep divide within the Congress, Prasad pointed out that the party’s core group had approved the ordinance.
He wondered that since President Pranab Mukherjee had to act on the aid and advice of the council of ministers, what would be the next advice of the council after Gandhi’s “game-changing” statement.
Taking a dig at UPA allies, Prasad wondered what leaders such as Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) chief Sharad Pawar would say about their decision being dubbed “nonsense” by Gandhi.
He also attacked potential UPA ally Janata Dal (United) leader and Bihar chief minister Nitish Kumar’s praise for Gandhi.
The JD(U) had ended its 17-year-old alliance with the BJP and the saffron party-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) in June. The spilt came after the BJP fast-tracked Modi’s rise.
Who is saying what:
Naresh Agarwal (SP): With this rift, there is a sudden mistrust of the entire government. The Congress should understand that if the government’s reputation takes a hit, the country’s reputation will also be affected.
Praful Patel (NCP): I think the entire matter could have been handled in a better way. It's embarrassing.
Ravi Shankar Prasad (BJP): The issue impinges upon the respect for the office of Prime Minister. Does Rahul Gandhi have even average understanding of national interest?
Omar Abdullah (NC): The misunderstandings which have been created… and a situation which has been created publicly, that needs to be set right privately in a closed room.
Milind Deora (Congress): There is nothing wrong in accepting and trying to rectify perhaps what would be called an error. Nobody should have an ego.