In a no holds barred counter-attack on Manmohan Singh, BJP today branded the former Prime Minister a "puppet" and accused him of "lying with a straight face" after he charged the Modi government with harping on corruption to divert the people's attention to non-issues.
Leading the charge was BJP President Amit Shah who told reporters in Gujarat that "scams" involving Rs 12 lakh crore had been perpetrated during Singh's 10-year rule and he "cannot run away from its responsibility" by merely saying that he had not "enriched" himself.
"I believe that a Prime Minister's responsibility is not limited to not doing corruption himself but to also ensure that others are not allowed to do corruption. He has to root out corruption from the system. Under Singh's rule, scams of (Rs) 12 lakh crore occurred and Congress cannot run away from its responsibility," Shah said.
"Debate is not over simply because you (Singh) do not yourself engage in corruption. A Prime Minister is expected to provide corruption free governance," he said.
At an event in New Delhi earlier in the day, Singh launched a sharp attack on the BJP government for its frequent reference to scams under his tenure and asserted, "I have not used my public office to enrich myself, to enrich my family or my friends. The BJP government keeps on harping on this theme of corruption because it wants to divert people's attention to non-issues."
BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra said Singh had broken his silence after being "exposed" by "books after books", "facts after facts" and not only by agencies like CAG and CBI but also by "his own bureaucrats", a reference to allegations by former TRAI chairman Pradip Baijal that Singh had warned him of harm if he did not cooperate on 2G telecom licenses.
Attacking the former Prime Minister for his assertion that he had not enriched himself or his family, Patra said Singh was a "shadow Prime Minister" who used his office to "enrich" 10 Janpath, a reference to Congress President Sonia Gandhi.
"Country knows... if there is a Prime Minister without the Gandhi family, then he is merely a shadow Prime Minister, a puppet Prime Minister with the strings lying with the 10 Janpath. In such a scenario, the country knew Singh's strings were lying with 10 Janpath," the BJP spokesperson said.
Alleging that Singh's uttering were "full of lies", BJP secretary Siddharth Nath Singh said, "One must give credit to him that he is (the) best politician India has produced in the last many decades... He can lie with a straight face and say I have not done anything wrong."
BJP spokesperson Patra said it was "ironical" that former Prime Minister Singh chose to keep silent when Parliament debated scams during his tenure and speak out now when "truth is out in the open".
"It would be very apt to say that Singh has broken his silence in self-defence and not for the nation," he said.
Claiming that Singh termed corruption as a "non-issue", Patra said, "Your government, the Congress-led UPA, looted this country for 10 long years. Thirteen to fifteen lakh crores (of rupees) were drained from country and you say it's a non-issue."
"You had pick-pocketed money from every pocket of the country," he charged.It may be a "non-issue" for Congress but a "core issue" for the country and people showed it in the 2014 election by giving Congress merely 44 seats, he said.
This "ritual" of breaking silence is of no use, he said as he referred to the summoning of Singh by a local court in a coal scam case.
Singh reduced the position of Prime Minister to "ridicule", he said, alleging that official files were taken to Sonia Gandhi for her approval during the former Prime Minister's term.
Another party spokesperson Nalin Kohli said Singh was never accused of personal corruption and referred to cancellation of spectrum and coal block allocations by the Supreme Court to highlight financial scandals in his rule.
Hitting out at the BJP government, Singh had accused it of repackaging UPA's programmes and marketing as its own. "What BJP had opposed when we were in power are now being sold as its contribution," the former Prime Minister said.
Rejecting criticism of "policy paralysis" under the UPA, he said when his government left, India was the second fastest growing economy in the world and noted there was a "fragileness" in economic recovery under the current dispensation.
BJP leaders also raked up the charges levelled by Singh's cabinet colleague Jayanthi Natarajan, who had been expelled from Congress, and arrest of the then Telecom Minister A Raja to attack him.
They said the Modi dispensation was successfully reconstructing the economy broken under the UPA rule.