Manmohan Singh on Wednesday stepped up his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the eve of the final phase of the Gujarat polls, releasing a video message where the former premier accused him of spreading "falsehood and canards" to score political points.
The sharply-worded message, which was virtually a repeat of his written statement released on Monday, provoked an equally strong backlash from the Bharatiya Janata Party, which questioned Singh's silence when "monumental loot" was taking place under his watch.
The usually reticent Singh's video was in response to Modi's remarks insinuating that the former prime minister had colluded with Pakistan to influence the elections in Gujarat where the BJP and the Congeress are locked in a contest, many say, is too close to call.
"Fearing imminent defeat in Gujarat, desperation of the prime minister to hurl every abuse and latch on to every straw is palpable," Singh said in the message released to TV stations.
Singh's second salvo in three days was apparently aimed at ensuring there was no let up in the heat on the BJP ahead of Thursday's polling in 93 constituencies of Gujarat. The remaining 89 seats voted in the first phase on December 9. Results will be known on December 18.
Not ready to cede any ground to the political rival, the BJP mounted a spirited counteroffensive, with its president Amit Shah questioning why he was "angry" now after being silent when "monumental loot" was taking place during his stint as prime minister.
"We are seeing a very angry Manmohan Singh ji these days. We just want to ask him whether he was so angry when monumental loot and plunder was happening under his watch? The nation missed his anger then!" Shah tweeted.
Shah asked why Singh was not angry and anguished when Modi was called Maut Ka Saudagar (merchant of death) or neech.
The raucous campaign, marked by fiesty and often acrimonious speeches where Modi and Congress president-elect Rahul Gandhi locked horns repeatedly, ended on Tuesday.
"I am deeply pained and anguished by the falsehood and canards being spread to score political points in a lost cause by none less than Prime Minister Narendra Modi," he said and demanded an apology.
Singh and Modi ran into each other earlier on Wednesday at an event to pay homage to the victims of the 2001 Parliament attack, and greeted each other briefly.
Singh urged the prime minister to show "maturity and gravitas, as expected of the high office he holds, instead of concentrating his energy solely on scoring "erroneously conceived brownie points".
"I sincerely hope that he will apologize to the nation for his ill thought transgression to restore the dignity of the office he occupies," he said.
Strongly rejecting the "innuendos and falsehoods" made by Modi, Singh said he did not discuss Gujarat elections with anyone else at the dinner hosted by Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar, as alleged by Modi, and nor was the Gujarat issue raised by anyone else present at the dinner.
"The discussion was confined to Indo-Pakistan relations. It is wrong and unfair to question nationalism of journalists, diplomats and public servants present at the dinner," he said.
Singh also asserted that Modi "is setting a dangerous precedent by his insatiable desire to tarnish every constitutional office, including that of a former prime minister and Army Chief", and described it as sad and regrettable.
Pointing out that Modi had gone to Pakistan uninvited after the terrorist attacks in Udhampur and Gurdaspur, Singh said, "Let him also tell the country the reason for inviting the infamous ISI of Pakistan to our strategic Air Base in Pathankot to investigate a terror attack that emanated from Pakistan."
Shah took on Singh over Rahul Gandhi publicly tearing a copy of an ordinance cleared by his Cabinet.
"Where was his concern for the dignity of the Prime Minister’s office when a Congress MP tore the ordinance in public," Shah asked.
IMAGE: Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets his predecessor Manmohan Singh outside Parliament where tributes were being paid to those who lost their lives in the 2001 attack. Photograph: Vijay Verma/PTI Photo