The Bharatiya Janata Party's prime ministerial face, Narendra Modi, launched a no-holds-barred attack against the Congress on Sunday, targeting Rahul Gandhi in particular to get at Prime Minister Manmohan Singh.
"Congress vice-president (Gandhi) has committed the sin of disrespecting the Prime Minister," the Gujarat chief minister said at his first rally in Delhi following his official elevation within the party to the national stage.
He used Gandhi's outburst against an ordinance designed to protect convicted lawmakers to corner the government, but the ferocity of the attack was unprecedented.
What's more, his choice of words was not in accordance with the nuanced position he was seen to be adopting of late on the national stage.
Referring to Gandhi as "prince", Modi said, "If I may use a rural terminology, then Congress upadhyaksh ne pradhan mantri ki pagdi uchhal di (Gandhi has insulted the prime minister)."
Modi urged people to choose between democracy and dynasty in the next Lok Sabha election.
"There is a war between dynastic rule and democracy.
"The dynastic rule is trying to strangle democracy. Will the country function on the basis of constitution or on the whims of the prince? The dynastic rule and the prince are not just insulting the prime minister but insulting the constitution, the parliament and democracy."
Modi also bristled at reports that Pakistani PM Nawaz Sharif had purportedly called Singh a "dehati aurat" (village woman) to highlight "the nation of 1.2 billion will not tolerate its Prime Minister's insult".
"We can have our fight with the PM over policy, but we will never tolerate such an insult. From where did Nawaz Sharif get the audacity to talk like this about our PM?"
He answered his rhetorical question by claiming Sharif had managed to do so because Gandhi had disrespected Singh.
Modi also slammed Singh for "prostrating" himself in front of US President Barack Obama. "The PM prostrated himself in front of Obama, saying we are a poor country. He should have proudly said we are a young country, where is the shame in that?"
Raking up an old comment from Gandhi that "poverty is a state of mind," he said, "This poverty you spoke of Mr PM, is it a state of mind? That is how the prince described it."
Targeting Delhi chief minister Sheila Dikshit, Modi said the state had failed to capitalise on the opportunity offered by the Commonwealth Games.
"From South Korea to China, countries use such opportunities to showcase their sport prowess, their soft power and improve their standing in the global community. India lost that opportunity due to the Commonwealth Games scams."
Holding Dikshit responsible for the fiasco, he said, "The happiest CM in India is Delhi's. She has no work other than cutting ribbons. If there is law and order problem in Delhi, all the CM does is blame it all on the Central government."
Bringing up the horrific 2012 December 16 gang-rape case, he said, "After an incident like the gang-rape occurs, all she can say is that as a mother I advise women to return home early. That is an advice every mother will give, but what are you doing as the CM?"
Modi said Delhi's people were burdened by their government. "Across the world, governments are the people's strength. It's only in Delhi that people are burdened by the deadweight of governments."
Lustily cheered on by a massive crowd at the Japanese Park in north Delhi, he exhorted people to bring the BJP's "dream team" to power, he asked them to throw out the "corrupt" Congress-led United Progressive Alliance (UPA) government in the Lok Sabha election due in 2014.
"The country needs a dream team in 2014, not this dirty team. This government has no vision - look at all the budgets and plans, only the dates change."
The Delhi Police put the number of people at the rally at 130,000. The BJP, however, said the turnout was "several lakhs". Modi himself claimed, "No party in Indian history has held such a big rally in Delhi."
While the BJP has made Modi its prime ministerial face in the run-up to the Lok Sabha elections, Gandhi is widely seen as the man Congress will pin its hopes on to retain power.
(Inputs from Faizan Haidar and Shaswati Das)
Highlights from Modi rally
What Modi Said:
• Gets crowd to chant Vande Mataram and steps down from dais
• Serving people is the only religion the government should follow
• Only holy book for the government is the Constitution
• Government has responsibilities and character, and its priority is the nation's progress
• We will struggle to fulfil your dreams, and that is my promise
• Have faith in BJP, trust in my work, my past and I guarantee we will never break your trust
• I am not a ruler, only your servant. I am a servant of the people
• Talks about his own life, how he used to sell tea in a railway compartment. Crowd starts chanting his name
Supporters of the BJP wear masks of Gujarat chief minister and the BJP prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, during an election rally in New Delhi. (AFP Photo)
• UPA government has no vision
• In 2014, the nation needs a dream team, not a dirty team
• Will the country run under the constitution or under Rahul Gandhi?
• Dynasty is strangling democracy
• The nation doubts if PM will be able to effectively deal with the Pakistan situation
• If the PM's own party doesn't respect him, why would Nawaz Sharif?
• Where did Sharif get the courage to use terms such as "dehati aurat"
• We may have differences and fight here but Pakistan PM or any other country dare not insult our PM
• The Indian journalist sitting with Sharif listening to him insulting our PM should have walked out
• How dare Nawaz Sharif call India's PM a village woman? We can fight with him on policies but this is an insult to the country
Gujarat state chief minister and the BJP prime ministerial candidate, Narendra Modi, talks to state party president Vijay Goel during a rally in New Delhi. (Sonu Mehta/HT)
• Rakes up issue of Nawaz Sharif reportedly calling Manmohan Singh a "dehati aurat"
• This poverty you cashed in on in front of Obama was a "state of mind, was it?" - taking potshots at Rahul Gandhi
• PM Manmohan Singh sold India's poverty to US President Barack Obama
• There is zero progress in core infrastructure projects
• Aviation sector has suffered immense losses due to corruption
• UPA has derailed India
• India added 3,000 km of railway tracks in 30 years, whereas China added 11,000 km
• NDA built 24,000 km in 5 years. UPA has built only 16,000km in 9 years
• All of UPA's success stories are run by the states. Look at what happens to central departments like the Railways
• Plants capable of generating 20,000 MW are ready but they lie idle because UPA stands in way
• The country's priority should be to vote this government out of power
• UPA govt has failed to provide employment. NDA had done much better
• How long will the young keep scavenging for jobs?
• Congress governance is like diabetes, we are that misgoverned as a nation
A view of the stage, with BJP's top leaders, set up for the mega rally. (Photo courtesy: Twitter, @BJPDelhiState)
• Many small nations have overtaken us because they had the vision and plans to realise them
• India became independent in 1947 but it needs good governance so that the country functions smoothly
• India's future is at risk under Congress rule
• NDA govt brought development in all areas. UPA has undone all the good work through 'Gandhi bhakti' by hoarding rupee notes
• Government is mired in corruption. Instead of finding a solution, it stops functioning
• It's as though Congress is addicted to corruption, much like an alcoholic needs alcohol
• All countries present their best face when hosting sports events. China showed its power by hosting Olympics. We have lost our chance
• Commonwealth Games scam has robbed India's reputation, future and sportsman spirit
• Says Delhi CM advises women to return home before dark
• If there is law and order problem in Delhi, all Delhi CM does is blame it all on central government
• Each UPA constituent pulls in its own direction and the country is going nowhere
• The happiest CM in India is Delhi's CM. She has no work other than cutting ribbons
• Coalition government is made on the basis of numbers, but it functions effectively only when the chemistry is good
• Governments are the strength of the people, but Delhi is burdened by the government
• I am grateful to the weather gods for being kind to us
• No party in Indian history has held such a big rally in Delhi: Modi
• Modi begins by chanting 'Bharat Mata ki jai'
• Crowd lustily cheers Modi, chants his name
• A bugle blows for a really long time even as Modi takes centre stage
• Gadkari invites Modi to address rally
BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi and former party president and Delhi in-charge Nitin Gadkari at Vikas Rally in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)
• Nitin Gadkari addresses rally
• Goel asks crowd if they are ready to back Modi and BJP to carry India to new heights, chants "badlenge Delhi, badlenge Bharat"
• Goel refers to Sheila Dikshit as "dadi", saying it's time for her government to fall
• Goel (who aspires to be the CM candidate in Delhi) says, "I worked with Atal ji (at the Centre) when he became PM in 1998. I hope to work with Modi ji when he becomes PM."
• Goel urges crowd to clap for former PM Atal Bihari Vajpayee
• Vijay Goel addresses rally, urges crowd to clap for a minute for Modi
BJP prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi with state party president Vijay Goel wave to the party workers at Vikas Rally in New Delhi. (PTI Photo)
• Congress lacks both character and confidence. All it has done is made money from nefarious ways, says Navjot Singh Sidhu.
• Modi's strengths will be the basis for BJP's victory in 2014, says Sidhu.
Quick bytes: Sidhu one-liners
• "Goel se bole Khurana, haaye ram Modi ka hai zamaana"
• "Yeh pradhan mantri na sardar hai na asardar hai"
A shot of the stage that was Modi's Delhi rally. (Photo courtesy: Twitter, @BJPDelhiState)
• Navjot Singh Sidhu addresses crowd
• "Modi lao, desh bachao" slogans rent the air
Quick bite: Sikh groups protest against Narendra Modi outside Gujarat Bhawan in Delhi ahead of his rally.
• Modi waves to the crowd, the gathering cheers loudly
• Diplomats and foreign dignitaries start clicking Modi's pictures
• BJP's VK Malhotra attacks Congress on corruption and ordinance 'drama'.
• Narendra Modi takes to the stage, with AR Rahman composed 'Vande Mataram' playing in the background.
Mega preparations: scenes from Japanese Park, the rally venue
Look and feel
• A 100-foot Modi cut-out at one of the venue's 11 entrances
• The venue, at first, packed half to capacity, but crowd swelled
• Waiting for Modi to arrive, BJP workers sing songs and recite poems
Pulling out all stops
• Giant screens play out developments on the main dais and elsewhere
• Hundreds of fans with water sprinklers and large tents keep crowds cool
• Foreign dignitaries, Delhi BJP president Vijay Goel among first to reach the venue
• Diplomats from countries such as China, Germany, Spain, Peru, Ethiopia among others seated on separate stage next to the main stage
• More than 3,000 Delhi Police and Central Reserve Police man Japanese Park in north Delhi
• All including mediapersons frisked thrice
Special guests, including foreign dignataries, present during the Delhi rally. (Photo courtesy: Twitter, @BJPDelhiState)