New Delhi, Aug. 8: Gloves off and eyes blazing, Sonia Gandhi today locked L.K. Advani in a bout that brought to light an unseen face of India’s most private public figure.
Advani’s description of UPA-II as “illegitimate” ignited the dust-up but many saw in the confrontation attempts by both leaders to adjust their roles to suit new political realities.
Advani’s aggression was seen as a bid to re-establish his credentials as a combative leader after scoring a self-goal through a “blog blunder” barely a few days ago.
Sonia’s headlong plunge into the battle is being viewed as well-timed use of a chance to dispel the notion that the shift of trouble-shooter Pranab Mukherjee to Rashtrapati Bhavan will impair the ruling combine’s political management.
Sonia surprised friends (pleasantly, going by Congress MPs’ reaction) and foes alike, but Advani may have further damaged his case by sending out a politically incorrect message while correcting his image. Advani’s use of the word “illegitimate” gifted Sonia the opportunity to prove that she was capable of leading from the trenches and not just from behind the scenes.
A livid Sonia signalled Congress MPs to join the protest, which they did with gusto and they wasted no time in clambering up the moral pedestal.
Sushil Shinde, who succeeded Mukherjee as the leader of the Lok Sabha, got up to say: “Advaniji is a senior leader and we all respect him. But today he said the entire election is illegitimate. This is an insult of voters. He should withdraw his words.”
Advani, who initiated the discussion on the Assam clashes under an adjournment motion that was defeated later, had deviated from the topic and said: “A few days ago I wrote a blog, not as a spokesperson of my party, but to enthuse my party workers. One Congress leader said Advani has accepted defeat. I said ‘Oh! Yes’.
“I want to tell the Prime Minister that your first government, which you called UPA-I, was born out of elections. There was nothing illegitimate about it. But the second government… I have said earlier too that never in the history of India crores of rupees were spent to win a vote in the House.”
As Advani went on to say “UPA-II was illegitimate”, Sonia gestured towards the Opposition benches, cried out that this was intolerable and turned back to signal her MPs to get cracking.
Most of the Congress MPs burst into a loud chorus of “withdraw-withdraw” even as Rahul Gandhi sat silently along with the younger brigade.
Advani, who wanted to act tough after annoying the RSS and his colleagues by conceding in his blog that the BJP may not be in a position to make its own government and pick the Prime Minister, refused to withdraw his remark, arguing that he was not referring to the 2009 election but to the 2008 trust vote in the Lok Sabha.
Sonia fiercely contested that, triggering a louder clash.
Sensing that Sonia was extremely angry, parties like the DMK, BSP, RJD and the SP also rose to protest but Trinamul MPs sat quiet.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh acted in line with his job profile and reputation by remaining calm. Later, Singh described Advani’s remark as “disgraceful” — which was accorded “sledge-hammer” status by Congress MPs as it came from a leader who usually steers clear of strong words.
Speaker Meira Kumar pleaded with Advani to withdraw the word “illegitimate”. As the House could not have been adjourned as it was discussing an adjournment motion, the Speaker announced a lunch break.
Many presumed the House will not function after the break but normal work started in the afternoon with the Speaker announcing that Advani had withdrawn his remarks.