Political discourse hit a new low on Wednesday with Shiv Sena chief Bal Thackeray launching a vicious personal attack on Rahul Gandhi and saying the Congress MP was a "victim of the disease" that sets in when a person doesn't get married "despite advancing age".
While the Congress hit back saying the 84-year-old Bal Thackeray was a "paper tiger" and had probably turned senile, his son Uddhav Thackeray also called a press conference in Mumbai to say that Rahul Gandhi must "keep off Maharashtra".
The tone was set in the morning with Bal Thackeray hitting out at the Congress general secretary for his statements on the role of north Indians in protecting Mumbai during the 26/11 terror attacks.
He said in an editorial in the Sena mouthpiece Saamna: "It seems that since Rahul won't grow any further physically, he has now grown horns and wisdom teeth to make such statements."
"Despite advancing age, if a person does not get married, he becomes frustrated, even Rahul seems to be a victim of this disease and makes stupid remarks," Bal Thackeray lashed out about the 39-year-old Congress general secretary.
"Rahul speaks of the north Indians' contribution during the 26/11 attacks, but in Kashmir, maximum number of soldiers from Maharashtra sacrificed themselves to protect the national borders."
He warned that whoever tried to challenge Maharashtrians would have to bow before them. "Let 'Prince' Rahul study history and he would know how his great grandfather Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru had to apologise to the people of Maharashtra. Let the Prince not repeat such mistakes."
Rahul Gandhi's comments at a press conference in Bihar Tuesday that "every part of India belongs to every Indian" angered Uddhav Thackeray as well.
The Shiv Sena, Rahul Gandhi had said, was silent when National Security Guard (NSG) personnel from various parts of India fought Pakistani terrorists during the 26/11 Mumbai attacks. "In Mumbai, men in the NSG were from Bihar, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Himachal Pradesh and Maharashtra. At that time, they (Shiv Sena) were silent and did not say that those from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh should be taken out."
Uddhav Thackeray said in a press conference in Mumbai that Rahul Gandhi's statements were prompted by the forthcoming assembly elections in Bihar.
"Nobody should think that the Sena is weak. Rahul Gandhi can keep away from Maharashtra," he thundered.
Disgusted, a Congress leader said Bal Thackeray was nothing but a paper tiger while another asserted that people should retire from public life after a certain age.
Senior Congress leader Digvijay Singh said in the Uttar Pradesh town of Varanasi that Bal Thackeray was a "paper tiger" and his comments were aimed at only hogging the limelight in the media.
"People should not pay any heed to him...We know very well how courageous they (Thackerays) are, considering the fact that they did not speak anything nearly one month after 26/11," he told reporters.
"One should retire from public life after a certain age," Congress spokesperson Shakeel Ahmed added about the 84-year-old Thackeray.
Referring to Thackeray's age, he said some people lose the ability to distinguish between right and wrong as they grow in years.
"Some people, as they age, lose balance to know what should be said and done, and what not. They should retire from public life and stop commenting on public issues," Ahmed said in New Delhi.