Bharatiya Janata Party's (BJP's) prime minister nominee Narendra Modi on Wednesday once again accused the Congress of practising dynasty politics, blaming it for "depriving" Pranab Mukherjee of the PM's post at least twice.
Mukherjee, now the President of India, was the senior-most Congress leader in the Union cabinet after Prime Minister Indira Gandhi's assassination in 1984, Modi said, addressing a rally in Kolkata.
"It would have been good if Pranab Mukherjee was given a chance to become the prime minister of India. In 1984, when Indira Gandhi was assassinated, Rajiv Gandhi was in Kolkata and he rushed back to Delhi.
"Pranab Mukherjee was the senior-most minister in the cabinet. But this family (Nehru-Gandhi family) did not allow him to become the prime minister and gave the post to Rajiv Gandhi," Modi pointed out, raking up one of the least-debated topics in Congress circles.
He asked the electorate of Bengal to keep in mind the 'deprivation' and vote against the Congress in the 2014 Lok Sabha elections. "People of Bengal, don't forget these instances of deprivation. I request you."
There are no important portfolio – finance, external affairs, defence, home – that Mukherjee has not handled during his political career. But the PM's post has eluded him.
READ: Why is Modi praising Pranab?
Read:Narendra Modi slams Left parties in Bengal, doesn't criticise Mamata Banerjee
A pause of a few seconds, and before many could digest the punch, Modi again came up with the second reference.
"Again in 2004, Pranabda was the senior-most politician. Since madam Sonia Gandhi did not want to become the PM, the opportunity should have been given to Pranabda. But Manmohan Singhji was made the prime minister. Pranabda was not given the opportunity," said Modi.
He referred to Mukherjee, a native of Bengal, as Pranabda in a sign of courteousness.
However, this was not the first time when Modi questioned the selection of Rajiv Gandhi and Singh for the prime minister's post.
Read: No 'gyan' needed from Modi who did not spare his 'guru', says Cong
He had raised the issue at a recent BJP meeting in Delhi after Congress vice-president Rahul Gandhi said parliamentarians would select the next PM "democratically" if the Congress came to power.
In response to the statement — interpreted as a veiled criticism of the BJP's PM candidate — Modi had questioned the selection of Rajiv Gandhi and incumbent Singh for the country's top job.
Singh, according to Modi, "was nominated by Soniaji (Congress president Sonia Gandhi)", and not by the MPs.
The accusation sparked a row. Information and broadcasting minister Manish Tewari accused Modi of trampling constitutional propriety by dragging the “office of the President of India into a political discourse”.
While he came down hard on the Left and attacked efforts to cobble up a third front, the Gujarat strongman was soft on Mamata Banerjee, who only a week ago had lashed out the BJP at the same venue for being a “party of rioters”.
Banerjee, who was a BJP ally from 1998 to 2006, save for a few months in 2001, said Trinamool won’t join hands with the saffron party.
“If you vote for us you will have three benefits — first, Mamataji will do development in Bengal, second, BJP will do the same from Centre and third, Pranab da (Pranab Mukherjee) will sit at the top,” Modi said. “You will have laddus in both hands.”
In fact, BJP president Rajnath Singh, speaking earlier, had set the tone for a future alliance by backing Banerjee’s demand for a three-year moratorium on interest on central loans.
Modi was unsparing in his criticism of the Left’s efforts to set up a third front, or federal front as it is being called now. “Third Front will make India third grade and we need to reject them forever. Those talking about the Third Front in Delhi should come here and see which way the wind is blowing,” he said.
The statement came as 14 non-Congress and non-BJP parties were meeting in Delhi to give formal shape to a “third force”. Banerjee, too, has shown interest in such a formulation.
He accused the left parties and their partners of ruining the eastern region of the country and indulging in “the politics of vote-bank by misleading Muslims”.