Cong trinity takes on Advani
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Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, whom Advani has repeatedly targeted personally, counterattacked in Mumbai, saying Advani combined "strength in speech with weakness in action."
"Mr Advani likes to call me a weak Prime Minister. I cannot help pointing out that when held to the fire during the Kandahar hijacking, the BJP's iron man was quick to melt," Singh said.
"Substance," the PM said, "triumphs over style". He taunted Advani: "Unlike the NDA's prime ministerial candidate, I will not be found weeping in a corner while hoodlums tear down a centuries-old mosque. Nor will I be found wringing my hands in frustration when one of my chief ministers condones a pogrom targeted at minorities.
"And I will certainly not say things in Pakistan that offend every Indian and then abandon my stand when it becomes politically inconvenient within my party. Mr Advani has the unique ability to combine strength in speech with weakness in action. This is not the kind of strength we need."
Addressing election meetings in Kerala, Congress general secretary Rahul Gandhi matched Singh's rhetoric with some of his own.
At Nedumbassery near Kochi, Rahul brought up the Kandahar hijack episode, and Advani's statement that he did not know that the flight to Kandahar carrying the then External Affairs Minister Jaswant Singh also had the terrorists released from prison.
"How would Advani have been the Home Minister and not know something as fundamental as this?" Rahul asked.
"There are two possiblities: Advani is not saying the truth and he buckled under pressure, or his Prime Minister A B Vajpayee did not believe him... If somebody is Home Minister and the Prime Minister does not have faith in him, he should have resigned," Rahul said.
Earlier, speaking in Thiruvananthapuram, Rahul said: "Manmohan Singh is a prime minister who thinks about the future, while Advani is living in the past. Singh, who has the mind of a youth, can competently lead the nation."
At election meetings in Shillong, Itanagar and Silchar in the North-East, Congress president Sonia Gandhi reminded crowds that it was under a BJP-led NDA government that India was attacked in Kargil, blackmailed by hijackers in Kandahar and parliament was attacked by terrorists.
Sonia said the BJP practised "politics based on creating hatred among people of different faiths". Recalling Kandhamal, Godhra and Malegaon, she asked: "Do you believe they can fight terrorism and uphold the secular nature of the country?"
The BJP returned the Congress's fire.
At a function organised by the Friends of BJP, party leader Arun Jaitley said Manmohan Singh was suffering from an "inferiority complex" with regard to Advani. "Congress is envious of L K Advani's image as a strong leader," Jaitley said. "For the third time in the last two weeks, Manmohan Singh has started his speeches by saying that he is not weak. It seems that whenever he gets up to speak, L K Advani's image comes up in his mind, and he ends up defending himself."
The BJP also defended its handling of the Kandahar hijack, saying Congress Home Minister P Chidambram had admitted it was a "very difficult" decision.
According to BJP spokesperson Sidharth Nath Singh, Chidambaram had said: "I do not know how I would have reacted if 150 families came to my door and pleaded that their loved ones in that aircraft must be saved. It is easy to criticise but if one is in that position, it is a very difficult decision."