Congress and BJP today engaged in a public spat over Sardar Patel's legacy with Narendra Modi saying India's "fate and face" would have been different had he been its first prime minister and Manmohan Singh reminding the saffron party's PM candidate of the 'Iron Man's' "secular outlook".
The function to mark the inauguration of the renovated Sardar Patel Museum virtually turned into a debate between the Prime Minister and Modi over claim to the legacy of Patel, independent India's first Home Minister.
"The country will always have one complaint, every Indian will always regret and feel the pain...had Sardar Saheb been our first prime minister, the country's fate would have been different, the country's face would have been different," Modi, who is seen as trying to fashion his image after the 'Iron Man', said.
Modi has been targeting the Nehru-Gandhi family for promoting "nepotism" and his comment could be seen as a veiled attack on the country's first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.
Singh, as if certain that Modi would try to appropriate Patel's legacy, reminded him of the leader's association with the Congress and his secular outlook.
"Patel's outlook was totally secular. He had great faith in the country's integrity. He had once said the entire country is like my village and people of all communities are like my friends and relatives. I am proud to be a member of a political party with which he was associated," he said, apparently targeting Modi and BJP for Hindutva bias.
"In his entire life Sardar Patel worked to strengthen the Indian National Congress. He was also appointed president of the party at its Karachi session," Singh said, reminding the BJP stalwart, whose election campaign slogan is "Congress mukt Bharat (Congress-free India)" of Patel's deep association with the party.
The gathering, which comprised mainly Congress followers, cheered the Prime Minister every time he seemed to be hitting out at Modi and even shouted slogans in support of Singh when he stood up to make his speech.
After initial exchange of pleasantries when both leaders were seen talking to each other smilingly, the temperature of the electoral arena spilled over to the