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Wednesday, September 1, 1999 Published at 10:10 GMT 11:10 UK

World: South Asia

Vajpayee 'disgusted' by personal attack

Information Minister Pramod Mahajan: Embroiled in row over Sonia Gandhi

By Omer Farooq in Hyderabad

The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has said he is disgusted by comments allegedly made by a senior Congress leader criticising his personal life.

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Speaking to journalists in the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh, Mr Vajpayee reiterated that politicians should refrain from making personally insulting remarks in the forthcoming general elections.

He said he had never been the target of such a personal and derogatory attack in his entire political career.

He said Mr Azad had conducted nothing short of a public character assassination of him, adding that this was something no Congress leader had ever indulged in until now.

Questioned Vajpayee's integrity

Mr Vajpayee's comments follow press reports detailing Mr Azad's comments in a television interview, in which he is said to have questioned the moral integrity of Mr Vajpayee's personal life.

Mr Azad is reported to have accused the Prime Minister - a bachelor - of fathering illegitimate children.

He is also alleged to have said these children now occupy positions in the government in Delhi.

Mr Vajpayee refused to comment on any of these allegations, but maintained that he had worked in political opposition for more than four decades and had not once made any such remarks about his political opponents.

He added that he had swiftly denounced comments by his colleagues attacking the Congress party President, Sonia Gandhi, and that he would maintain what he called a high level of decency in his election campaigning.

Highly personal attacks

This is the latest episode in a series of highly personal attacks by politicians campaigning for the forthcoming elections.

The Minister for Information and Broadcasting, Pramod Mahajan, linked Sonia Gandhi to Monica Lewinsky in a speech criticising Mrs Gandhi's foreign origins.

And the Defence Minister, George Fernandes, has said her only contribution to Indian society has been to have two children here.

Mrs Gandhi has responded by saying the governing BJP and its allies have no respect for women.

The Congress party also officially complained of attacks on Mrs Gandhi's personality, which led to the Election Commission warning candidates against such behaviour.

But observers say that with a lack of hard-hitting issues in the elections, this kind of negative campaigning will probably continue for some time.

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