Rural Development Minister Jairam Ramesh Thursday described Congress vice president Rahul Gandhi as "marathon man" of politics as he sought to pin down BJP's prime ministerial candidate Narendra Modi on the 2002 riots and his government's social development record.
Charges and retorts came thick and fast as Ramesh and Bharatiya Janata Party general secretary Amit Shah, debating at "Panchayat Aaj Tak", accused each others' parties of trying to polarise the coming Lok Sabha polls.
The duo also exchanged barbs on the "clean chit" given to Modi by an Ahmedabad court with Ramesh suggesting that verdict had to be seen in the light of the court's location.
Shah accused Congress of trying for polarisation, and charged it with seeking to make the Gujarat riots an issue though Modi had been given a clean chit.
Attacking Shah's stand, Ramesh contended that the special investigation team that probed some cases of 2002 riots had made adverse remarks about Modi's role though it had admitted that there was no prosecutable evidence.
Ramesh, who said the 2014 election was between ideologies and not two personalities, said: "Rahul Gandhi is a young leader. He is a marathon man of politics. I do not think politics is a sprint."
He said the Congress vice president was the party's face for the polls but said he had not been named prime ministerial candidate.
Ramesh said that BJP wanted to fight the 2014 election of "Gujarat shining" slogan as it had done in 2004 on "India Shining" slogan but the state had a lot to show in social indicators.
Gujarat was not the only development model and several states had their own models which had worked well, he said.
Shah admitted that Gujarat was behind some other states in human development indices but said that steps were being taken to improve the situation.
The BJP leader, who is seen as close to Modi, made efforts to turn the debate towards the United Progressive Alliance government's development record but it remained centred around riots and the stance of two parties towards minorities.
The BJP leader said Ramesh was trying to avoid discussion on alleged corruption and price rise during UPA's rule.