In the midst of the poll heat, the Congress has heaped praise on A B Vajpayee to attack Narendra Modi, asking how can a person whom the tallest leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party "wanted removed" as the chief minister in the wake of Gujarat riots be the party's PM candidate.
Accusing the opposition party of distancing itself from the Vajpayee legacy, the Congress on its official website said, "There is nobody to remind BJP of its Rajdharma".
"How can a person whom the tallest leader of the BJP wanted removed as chief minister, be the party's prime ministerial candidate?," Congress, which also a posted a picture of Vajpayee on its website, said.
"Having found a new icon in Modi, the BJP is working hard to distance itself from the Vajpayee legacy," the party charged.
The All India Congress Committee also asked whether a chief minister "who failed to protect his citizens, who discriminated between people on the basis of religion, who made a mockery of people's suffering, ever make a good prime minister?"
"How can a person who failed in his Rajdharma as chief minister ever ensure a peaceful and prosperous future for the people of India?," it sought to know.
Asserting that no leader in BJP can match the stature of former Prime Minister A B Vajpayee, the founding president of the party, the Congress noted that Vajpayee was the prime minister of India from 1998 until the NDA was defeated by the Congress-led United Progressive Alliance in 2004.
"Vajpayee was clear what was the reason for the defeat: Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's failure to control the communal pogrom in his state in 2002," it said on the website.
The Congress said Vajpayee believed that the party will lose its credibility unless it took action against Modi.
"Some people wanted to remove him. I was of the same opinion," said Vajpayee in Manali at that time.
"This is confirmed by Jaswant Singh, who held key portfolios in the NDA government. He had said that in 2002 Vajpayee had even threatened to resign unless the BJP took action against Modi," it said.
The fundamental cause of Vajpayee's "pain was that Modi didn't perform his Rajdharma. He did not fulfil his fundamental duty as the chief minister: protecting the lives of the people of Gujarat.
"Towards the last ebb of the Gujarat riots, Vajpayee urged Modi to observe Rajdharma and not discriminate on the basis of caste, creed or religion.
"It is evident that Vajpayee believed that the Gujarat CM had been not only inept but downright partisan in his handling of the riots," the Congress said.
Vajpayee has been unwell for quite some time and is away from politics.
The Congress said that not just the handling of the riots, Vajpayee believed that the Modi government wasn't doing enough to provide relief and rehabilitation to those who had been displaced during the riots.
He wrote a series of letters to Modi instructing him to do all that is necessary for the riot victims, "but to no avail", the party said.
To drive home its point, it recalled Vajpayee's niece, Karuna Shukla was forced to leave the party. She is presently with the Congress.
Jaswant Singh, a close confidante of Vajpayee, has been expelled from the party.
"And Subramainan Swamy, a known adversary of Vajpayee who is even reported to have masterminded the downfall of the Vajpayee government in 1998, has been given a prominent place in the BJP", it said, adding that the BJP might forget Vajpayee but every Indian must ponder over the questions he raised on the man who is now the BJP's prime ministerial candidate.
This is perhaps for the first time that the Congress had drawn so heavily on the statements and actions of Vajpayee to target Modi.
Image: A 2002 photograph showing Narendra Modi greeting Atal Bihari Vajpayee during a rally in Ahmedabad
Photograph: Kamal Kishore/Reuters