With the campaigning for the first phase of the Lok Sabha polls in 124 constituencies across 17 states and union territories nearing its end, the Congress sharpened its attack on the BJP on Monday.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, party chief Sonia Gandhi and general secretary Rahul Gandhi all rained barbs on the NDA’s prime ministerial hopeful Lal Krishna Advani.
Sonia addressing a rally in Shillong, Rahul speaking at another distant corner, Kochi, and Singh holding a press conference in Mumbai, all harped back to the Kandahar hijack in December 1999 when Advani was home minister and recalled how the NDA had released dreaded terrorists who returned to attack the country.
“Can you trust such a person?” asked Sonia.
Rahul, in his first direct attack on Advani in this election, recalled how the latter had claimed much later that he had been unaware of the decision to trade terrorists for hostages. “There are two possibilities,” he said. “Either he is not telling truth or his Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, did not trust him. I want to know which one is correct. He should have quit immediately if the PM did not have faith in him.”
But the strongest attack came from Singh, whose comments on his rival have grown increasingly harsh in recent days. “Mr Advani has the unique ability to combine strength in speech with weakness in action,” he said.. “This is not the kind of strength we need.”
Singh recalled other embarrassments from Advani’s long career too. “Unlike the NDA’s prime ministerial candidate, I will not be found weeping in a corner while hoodlums tear down a centuries-old mosque,” he said, referring to the demoliton of the Babri Masjid in December 1992.
He also referred to the Gujarat riots of 2002 and Advani’s controversial tour of Pakistan three years ago. “Nor will I be found wringing my hands in frustration while one of my chief ministers condones a pogrom targeted at minorities. And I will certainly not say things in Pakistan that offend every Indian and then abandon my stand when it becomes politically inconvenient within my party,” he said.