Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on Tuesday challenged Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani's ability to rule India, saying his only contribution to "national welfare" was his role in the demolition of the Babri mosque.
Addressing reporters after releasing the Congress manifesto in New Delhi, the prime minister went hammer and tongs at Advani, calling him an "opportunist". Manmohan Singh was asked to comment on the BJP leader's charge that he was a weak prime minister.
Manmohan Singh said he was aware that Advani, the BJP's prime ministerial candidate, made the criticism "again and again".
"All I can discover... in (Advani is) the prominent role he played" in the 1992 razing of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya that sparked off widespread Hindu-Muslim violence.
"What has he done to the contribution of national welfare?" asked the prime minister, with Congress president Sonia Gandhi seated by his side at the Congress headquarters.
Manmohan Singh tore into Advani, rubbishing his record as home minister in the BJP-led government of Atal Bihari Vajpayee that was voted out in 2004.
"When he was the home minister, the (terrorist) attack on parliament took place," he said, adding that it led to a massive mobilisation of troops on the Pakistan border.
"Without getting any results, we rolled them back. Parliament was attacked, Red Fort was attacked (by terrorists), an Indian Airlines plane was hijacked and terrorists were rewarded (by releasing them). This is the record of Advani.
"He was the home minister who presided over the massacre (of innocents) in Gujarat. This country must reflect if he is fit to hold the post of prime minister."
Manmohan Singh went on to say that Advani, widely seen as a Hindu hardliner, "was opportunist enough when he went to Pakistan. There he suddenly discovered new virtues in Mohammed Ali Jinnah. When he came back, his party disowned him, his masters in the RSS (Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh) and many of his colleagues (disowned him)".
"Is he (Advani) a strong man or a weak man, let the records speak for themselves."