In his eagerness to deride the United Progressive Alliance government any which way he could, BJP leader L.K. Advani appears to have been searching the lexicon for new terms and expressions. But “illegitimate” was the wrong word to use for a government legitimately elected by the people. That said, there was really no reason for the Congress Members of Parliament, on cue from party president Sonia Gandhi, to react the way they did in the Lok Sabha. Home Minister Sushil Kumar Shinde chose this occasion to make his first intervention as Leader of the House. Other Congress MPs were on their feet in protest and Speaker Meira Kumar forced Mr. Advani to withdraw the remark almost under the threat of expunction. The BJP stalwart, sensing he had gone a word too far, tried to make amends by admitting he had made a mistake, and clarifying that what he had in mind was not UPA-II (elected in 2009), but UPA-I after the 2008 vote of confidence, which, according to him, was won by the government only because it spent crores of rupees. In a foretaste of the political battles which lie ahead as the country moves slowly towards the next cycle of State elections and then 2014 itself, the Congress sensed an opportunity and pressed ahead with its advantage. In the House, Ms Gandhi was politically shrewd to recognise that Mr. Advani had made an intemperate remark, while outside Parliament, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, with more than a touch of hyperbole, described the remark as “disgraceful and unfortunate.”

If the Congress was overly aggressive, was the BJP leader overly defensive? Or has the veteran fighter of four decades lost his political touch? A few days ago, he annoyed several leaders on his side of the divide by blogging about the dim prospects of the next Prime Minister being from the BJP. In the dock on Wednesday for using the “i” word, Mr. Advani found himself without ammunition. All the adverse moral connotations of “illegitimate” must have been playing on the BJP leader’s mind when he sought to clarify his remark. Besides, for Mr. Advani, the 2009 loss, when he was the prime ministerial candidate of the NDA, must have hurt a lot more than the loss in 2004, when the NDA faced the election under A.B. Vajpayee. Whether this clouded his mind while speaking in the Lok Sabha on Wednesday is difficult to say, but, with his subsequent clarification, the noise over this needless controversy should be laid to rest. Nothing would be farther from the truth than to say that Mr. Advani was questioning the legitimacy of a democratically held, constitutionally validated, general election. Surely, the Congress and the BJP have more serious issues to tackle in Parliament and outside.

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