Congress ridicules opposition, PM challenges Advani


New Delhi : Releasing its manifesto for the Lok Sabha elections, the Congress Tuesday launched a scathing attack on the divided opposition, with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh questioning Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) leader L.K. Advani’s ability to govern the country.

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Manmohan Singh, speaking after Congress president Sonia Gandhi declared him the party’s prime ministerial candidate “for the full term”, denounced BJP candidate Varun Gandhi for his anti-Muslim comments and the BJP for its refusal to withdraw his candidature despite a public outcry.

Addressing journalists with Sonia Gandhi at his side, after she released a 21-page manifesto for the April-May polls, Manmohan Singh urged Pakistan to punish the “culprits” responsible for the Mumbai terror attack and said it would take 10-15 years to banish the country’s chronic poverty.

However, the 76-year-old Congress leader was at his aggressive best against Advani, calling him an “opportunist”. He was asked to comment on Advani’s charge that Manmohan Singh was a weak prime minister.

“All I can discover in (Advani is) the prominent role he played” in the 1992 demolition of the Babri mosque in Ayodhya that sparked off widespread Hindu-Muslim violence, the prime minister said. “What has he done to the contribution of national welfare?”

He tore into Advani, ridiculing 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 freeing 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 “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.”

He castigated the BJP for its “shameful endorsement of the line of young Varun Gandhi”.

“Candidates with such mindset cannot carry India forward,” the prime minister said, referring to the allegedly volatile speeches made in Varun Gandhi’s constituency in Pilibhit in Uttar Pradesh.

The Congress manifesto attacked both the BJP and the Third Front, accusing the former of preaching “narrow and communal nationalism (that) denies equality and equal rights to large sections of our people”. The fight between the Congress and BJP, it said, was “a clash between two competing visions of Indian nationalism”.

The manifesto described the Third Front as “a grouping of opportunistic parties” and “a recipe for chaos”. It was particularly harsh on the Left, which it alleged violated, while supporting the Congress-led alliance, “the discipline, restraint and sobriety” essential for a viable coalition.

Manmohan Singh expanded on the theme, describing both the BJP and the Left as “retrogessives who want India to move backward” for their attack on the India-US nuclear deal.

In her comments, Sonia Gandhi asserted that she had no desire to be the prime minister.

“My position is the same, my position is not going to change,” she said, referring to her decision of 2004. “The Congress party candidate for prime minister is Manmohan Singh.”

She added: “There can be many candidates for the post of prime minister but nobody stands in front of Manmohan Singh. He has both experience and competence.”

Gandhi, however, did not criticise the Left. Asked if she would take its help in the event of another hung parliament, she answered: “I cannot tell you that now. Let us see and go through the election.”

Manmohan Singh also urged Pakistan to do justice and punish the terrorists who attacked Mumbai in November 2008, leading to the death of over 170 people.

“We expect the government of Pakistan to bring all the culprits to book. It is in this context that we made important diplomatic efforts (after the terror attack). Fortunately, those efforts have succeeded.

“For the first time, Pakistan has admitted that its own citizens have been involved in the terrorist act.

“We expect Pakistan to take the next step… (ensure) justice is done and culprits are punished. We still believe diplomacy should be given a chance. No purpose is served by war hysteria.”