The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Cong warning shot after origin salvo

New Delhi, July 19: The Congress has sent out a terse message to Raipur where the BJP national executive is in session: “We do not wish to run down your leader but if you choose to run a personalised campaign deriding our leader, we are more than ready for it and rest assured we will match you blow for blow.”

The Congress leadership decided that it must not remain silent following BJP general secretary Mukhtar Abbas Naqvi’s remarks that Sonia Gandhi would pose a security risk as Prime Minister as she has a foreign origin. The Congress fielded spokesman S. Jaipal Reddy to send its message to Raipur to ensure that the BJP does not draw the wrong conclusion over the main Opposition party’s state of mind.

The Congress’ reluctance to project the forthcoming parliamentary election campaign as a contest between Sonia and Prime Minister A.B. Vajpayee is known. However, Reddy today gave a piece of the Congress’ mind to the ruling party’s leadership to remove misconceptions of the Opposition party’s weakness and nip in the bud any plans of exploiting this.

At a special media briefing at the party headquarters this evening, the Congress spokesman took strong objection to Naqvi’s remarks. He condemned the “outrageous utterances” and criticised BJP leaders for questioning Sonia’s political and administrative competence for becoming Prime Minister.

“We are aware of the competence level of Vajpayee who spent Rs 7,000 crore on Operation Parakram, deploying 7.5 lakh troops along the Indo-Pak borders for seven months, only to withdraw them,” Reddy said. He pointed out that President Pervez Musharraf had commented that this move was a triumph for Pakistan.

“Vajpayee is an ageing octogenarian. With advancing age and sinking health, he needs more time to rest than to work,” claimed the Congress leader. He wondered why the BJP came a poor third in the last Assembly elections in Uttar Pradesh from where Vajpayee had been elected twice to the Lok Sabha.

Reddy also said all the administrative experience Vajpayee had before becoming Prime Minister was a brief spell as external affairs minister when then Prime Minister Morarji Desai did not even feel it necessary to consult him.

In contrast, since she took over as Congress president five years ago, Sonia has increased the tally of Congress-ruled states from five to 15, he said.

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