Sardar Patel row: PM gives Modi a taste of his own medicine

Narendra Modi today got a taste of his own brand of accuse-retort-accuse politics, as Prime Minister Manmohan Singh took on the Gujarat chief minister on a comment made to trivialise India's first prime minister Jawaharlal Nehru. Modi, who was sharing the dais with Singh, found it necessary to ignore the dignity of the occasion and take a dig at the Congress with his eye on the upcoming general elections in 2014. Concluding his speech, Modi took a not-so-subtle potshot at the Congress and said, "Had Sardar Vallabbhai Patel been the country's first prime minister, India's fortunes would have been completely different from what it is now."

He was speaking at a function in Ahmedabad where he shared the dais with Singh to inaugurate a museum dedicated to country's first home minister Sardar Patel.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. PTI

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh. PTI

Addressing the gathering soon after Modi finished his speech an unfazed Singh said, "Sardar Patel was secular. People of all religions were his friends. Sardar Patel was a deputy prime minister in Nehru's cabinet. They might have differences but they used to respect each other a lot. " Briefly pausing, he added, "There is a severe dearth of the values he stood for, the same values that form the bedrock of our country."

Seeking to set the ball right and taking on Modi directly, the prime minister said, "I want to quote a few lines from what Sardar Patel had to explain the kind of relationship he had with Nehru. He had said that 'we used to take each other's advice at all times and the only people who can do that are people who have great trust in each other'."

Singh, significantly, didn't launch on Modi directly. He first spoke about Patel's relationship with Gandhi ji. "Sardar Patel used to look up to Gandhi like he looked up to his own father," he said. Only then, he went to to talk about the relationship Sardar Patel shared with Nehru.

Unrelenting on that, a firm Singh tore apart the words of the firebrand BJP prime ministerial candidate by saying that people should learn to respect each other.

"Mahatma Gandhi, Sardar Patel and Maulana Abul Kalam Azad taught us to respect all people even if their ideologies were different. Today there is dearth of these thoughts and I believe everyone present on this dais will do a self-assessment about it," the prime minister said.

"Sardar Patel always dreamed of an united India with a secular outlook. Patel has inspired us with his works," he said.

Earlier in his speech, Modi thanked Singh for starting off a process to recognise state governments for good work.

"We are thankful to the prime minister that during his tenure only Gujarat has won several awards in the field of good governance. The awards from the Central government has inspired the Gujarat government to do better work. Different Central ministries have given at least 90 awards to Gujarat, and I thank the prime minister for that," Modi said.

However, almost in an attempt to purge himself for thanking the PM, Modi unleashed a severe round of criticism of the Prime Minister on twitter accusing him of ignoring Gujarat. Though in the very beginning of the inauguration, Modi had said that they were delayed because they took a long time looking at the installations at an exhibition, he lashed out at the PM on Twitter saying, Singh had refused to listen to Modi government's requests on issues important to the state.

If that was not enough, Modi, quite uncharacteristic of his reserved Twitter avatar took to lambasting him for visiting the Congress party office instead of giving them an audience. He tweeted:

Now, given that there must be several official channels of discussions like this and the Prime Minister was invited to inaugurate the museum, one might wonder what instigated the Gujarat CM's Twitter rant spree. Nowhere, in the run up to the event did the Gujarat CM, declare either to the media or on his favoured micro-blogging site that he intends to take up issues pertaining to Gujarat when the PM visited the state.

Unless of course he has no respect for the office of the Prime Minister, the sovereignty that comes with it and the importance of political protocol, there is little else other than political vendetta evident from the Gujarat CM's romp on Twitter. For someone who is easily the master of retorts in the political discourse of contemporary India, he sure can't take a snub in his stride too well!