"My mother is more Indian than many Indians," an emotional Rahul Gandhi said on Thursday responding to Prime Minister Narendra Modi's sarcastic barb at UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi over her foreign origin.
Recalling how, despite being an Italian by birth, Sonia Gandhi made sacrifices for the country, the Congress president said his mother has lived the larger part of her life in India.
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"My mother is an Italian. She has lived the larger part of her life in India. She is more Indian than many, many Indians I have seen. "She has sacrificed her life for the country, she has suffered for the country. When Modi makes such comments, it shows the quality of the man. I am happy if he enjoys making such comments, he is welcome," he told a press conference before winding up his extensive tour of election-bound Karnataka.
The issue of Sonia Gandhi's foreign origin was raked up by PM Modi at an election rally in Santemaranahalli on May 1 where he dared the Congress chief to speak for 15 minutes about the achievements of the Karnataka government in any language, including his "mother's mother tongue".
Modi was responding to Gandhi's earlier dare to allow him to speak for 15 minutes in Parliament on various issues, including corruption, and that the prime minister will not be able to sit for 15 minutes.
It was not for the first time that Modi had spoken about Sonia's foreign origin. Senior BJP leaders, including its president Amit Shah, have often brought it up while targeting her son.
At his election rallies Shah has frequently taken on 'Rahul baba', saying he was unable to see the changes brought about by the Modi government as he was wearing Italian spectacles.
External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj had, in the run up to the 2014 Lok Sabha polls, said Sonia was entitled to the "love, affection and respect" but not acceptable as the prime minister of the country.
"I have always maintained that Sonia Gandhi came to our country as daughter-in-law of Indira Gandhi and wife of Rajiv Gandhi and thus she is entitled to our love and affection. As the president of the Congress party she is entitled to our respect. But if she wants to become the Prime Minister then I say no," Swaraj had said.
Even Modi as the Gujarat chief minister had assailed Sonia, "a person not from our soil", for giving lessons in "swabhiman" (self respect).
"A person not of our soil should not give us lessons about 'swabhiman' (self respect)," Modi had told an election rally in Nashik ahead of the 2004 Lok Sabha polls.
Rahul says Modi's attack on his PM ambitions is to 'distract' attention
Congress president Rahul Gandhi also said Prime Minister Narendra Modi's attack on him declaring his prime ministerial ambitions was aimed at distracting attention.
"This election is not about Rahul," the Congress president said.
"I have now learnt to deal with the prime minister. When he can't respond, he distracts," Gandhi told reporters after winding up his extensive tour of poll-bound Karnataka.
Gandhi was responding to Modi's scathing attack on him after he declared his prime ministerial ambition.
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(With PTI inputs)