The Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) on Tuesday hit back at finance minister P Chidambaram for criticising Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi, and claimed he has given a "walkover" by accepting that no Congress leader matches the calibre of the BJP prime ministerial candidate.
"If Chidambaram considers himself better than Indira Gandhi, then it is a different thing. Atalji and Advaniji are our leaders. If he wants to give an example, Chidambaram should know that Modiji is far better than Rahul Gandhi. He should compare him (Modi) with his party's prime ministerial candidate," said BJP spokesperson Shahnawaz Hussain.
"By drawing a comparison between the leaders of our party, he is giving a walkover and accepting that no Congress leader matches the calibre of the Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial candidate," he said.
In an interview to Reuters on Monday, Chidambaram had dismissed the emergence of Modi on the national political stage as "largely media created".
He conceded that the Hindu nationalist leader had united the rank and file of the Bharatiya Janata Party and "gained some traction among urban youths", but said his party's challenger was someone with a "very, very chequered track record".
Modi was chief minister of the state of Gujarat when deadly communal riots raged there in 2002. He has always vehemently denied charges that he turned a blind eye to the violence, and a Supreme Court inquiry found no evidence to prosecute him.
Chidambaram also said India's economic downturn was no reason to think that his Congress party, which has been weakened by years of fractious coalition rule and a string of corruption scandals, would be ousted in a national election that must be held by May.
"Don't write us off so easily," he said, adding that the next leader of the Congress party would be Rahul Gandhi, scion of the Nehru-Gandhi dynasty that has ruled India for most of its 66 years since independence.
"I am glad you acknowledge prime minister Rahul Gandhi, but that is a question you should put to him," Chidambaram said, when asked if he would serve again in a government led by the party's heir apparent if Congress wins a third straight term in office. "The time has come for the torch to be passed on to a new and younger generation."
(With inputs from ANI)