The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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BJP keeps foreign line & length
- Party goes easy on Sonia origin

New Delhi, April 5: First every BJP heavyweight — from the Prime Minister and his deputy to Pramod Mahajan and Narendra Modi — stoked the fire over Sonia Gandhi’s “foreign” origin. Now, the party has decided it is time to douse some of the flames.

Gujarat chief minister Modi began off by partially retracting his comments on Sonia and son Rahul on a television show, saying he would try to maintain the “line and length” of his campaign. Today, BJP spokesman V.K. Malhotra came up with the theory that his party wanted to give primacy to development and governance.

“We believe we do not want to dilute the two issues of foreign origin and development,” Malhotra, who is contesting from Delhi South, told reporters.

Union health minister Sushma Swaraj, too, chipped in while campaigning in Dharamsala. She was quoted as saying she disapproved of Modi’s “foul and derogatory” language although Sonia’s “foreign” origin was an important political issue.

The statements of Sushma and Malhotra indicate that while the BJP is in no mood to knock the plank off its campaign agenda, it is keen on calibrating the idiom and intensity of individual formulations. If Sushma described Sonia as a “respected” leader of the Congress who could not become Prime Minister because she “did not understand” India, Malhotra had two posers for the party.

“The Congress owes an explanation to the nation on why Sonia did not take Indian citizenship for 15 or 16 years after her marriage. It was only when somebody filed a public interest litigation on how a non-Indian could reside in the PM’s residence that she hastily took citizenship,” he said.

Malhotra also questioned Sonia’s competence — or lack of it -— saying she flouted rules in the Lok Sabha and continued reading from prepared texts throughout her four-and-a-half years as leader of the Opposition. The rule permits a member to read from written text only during his maiden speech. Otherwise, he can only refer to points jotted down in his own hand.

“If I say that after 30 years or so, she cannot speak extempore in an Indian language, I don’t think I am saying anything objectionable,” Malhotra said. He also rejected the suggestion that he indirectly questioned the Speaker’s authority. “I am not challenging anyone’s authority, I am only challenging the competence of a certain person.”

Sources said the “foreign origin” subject was almost as volatile as Ayodhya and if leaders started articulating their views, there would be no stopping the BJP’s “loose cannons”. “So we decided to shift the focus of attack on Sonia’s competence.”

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