First, Narendra Modi questioned Manmohan’s well-earned reputation as a finance whiz. "During the Narasimha Rao government, he was the finance minister when India’s biggest share scam, committed by Harshad Mehta, occurred. Now he is PM and Satyam scam has occurred," Modi said at a Gandhinagar rally. "Is it the result of his economic policies or something else?"
From then on, various talking heads, from Arun Jaitley to Ravi Shankar Prasad, picked holes in the UPA government’s economic record, especially in the construction of highways. The next arrow was the huge fiscal deficit staring the next government in the face, the prospects of the next government inheriting a bankrupt treasury.
The timing was exquisite: Manmohan Singh had just then taken on additional duties as finance minister after P. Chidambaram had been drafted into the home ministry following the 26/11 attack on Mumbai. The implication was clear: Singh was no king and the "dream team" was a nightmare.
Launching the BJP-Sena election campaign in Bombay, Modi went for the jugular: "The CAG has found Rs 50,000 crore was unaccounted for and missing from the central government’s coffers. Is the missing money being used for election purposes by the ruling party?"
For a prime minister on whom not a speck of sleaze settled even after the cash-for-votes controversy, the questions over his professional competence in matters financial meant going a tad too far.
"Calling him weak or a lameduck prime minister who faithfully executed orders from 10 Janpath is one thing. Even making fun of his being missing in action after the heart operation may have been OK. But questioning his economic credentials may have been too much," says an economist with Manmohan’s ear.
Finally, the Swiss bank money issue hit the ceiling. The BJP went to town, quoting astronomical sums stashed away by Indians and conspiratorially hinting that Manmohan was doing nothing for reasons not far to guess. The PMO waited and watched. And when Advani sent off a letter, Jairam Ramesh sent off the now-famous letter exposing the fictitious e-mail on which the allegations were based.
The gloves were finally off.