- PM Modi doesn't accord respect to LK Advani, said Rahul Gandhi
- Mr Gandhi said he was the first to visit former PM Vajpayee in hospital
- BJP said Rahul Gandhi was practising "the lowest form of politics"
Addressing a rally of party workers in Goregaon near Mumbai, Mr Gandhi said the Congress has "given more respect to LK Advani than Modi-ji has".
"I shouldn't be saying this but I will. I feel bad for Advaniji... Everybody knows who is the guru and mentor of Modi -- L K Advani. But the Prime Minister doesn't accord respect to him even at official functions. It is me who follows protocol and I am always with him (Advani) during (such) events," the 47-year-old Congress chief said.
Speaking of Mr Vajpayee, he said, "Who fought against Vajpayeeji? We did. But when he is ill I was the first one to go and meet him. Vajpayeeji may have fought against us but he worked for the nation and he was the Prime Minister of the country and we respect him. And if he is unwell we will go and visit him. This is our religion. Maybe I have said too much".
Later in the evening, Mr Gandhi underscored the issue with a tweet and an allusion to Ekalavya, a heroic character from Mahabharata:
Ekalavya cut off his right thumb because his Guru demanded it.- Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) June 12, 2018
In the BJP, they cut down their own Gurus. Humiliating Vajpayeeji, Advaniji, Jaswant Singhji and their families is the Prime Minister's way of protecting Indian culture. pic.twitter.com/lqUtBtj0t8
BJP spokesperson Anil Baluni lashed out at Mr Gandhi, saying he was practising "the lowest form of politics". Citing the criticism former president Pranab Mukherjee faced from a section of Congress leaders after his decision to accept an invitation from the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, he said Mr Gandhi should not lecture anyone on politics.
Mr Advani -- architect of the BJP surge in the '90s and Mr Vajpayee's deputy in the NDA government -- was seen to have been shunted aside as PM Modi and his right-hand man Amit Shah took over the party leadership.
In 2013, Mr Advani led a bitter and eventually unsuccessful campaign to stop the BJP from picking Mr Modi as its presumptive prime minister.
After the BJP swept to power in 2014, Mr Advani, along with party veterans Yashwant Sinha and Murli Manohar Joshi, were named its "margdarshak mandal", meaning the guiding lights. The Congress has maintained that it was a ruse to sideline the leaders, since the BJP never takes their advice.
PM Modi and party chief Amit Shah had visited Mr Vajpayee at Delhi's AIIMS on Sunday. So has Mr Advani and a number of union ministers including Rajnath Singh, Harsh Vardhan and Vijay Goel. Congress' former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh visited him on Monday.