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India Leader: Don’t Criticize Rival

August 30, 1999

NEW DELHI, India (AP) _ Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee chastised his own Cabinet ministers Monday for making ``undignified″ comments about rival politician Sonia Gandhi, including comparing her to Monica Lewinsky.

The autonomous Election Commission met in the capital Monday to consider complaints from the Congress party and women’s groups about comments Defense Minister George Fernandes and Information and Broadcasting Minister Pramod Mahajan made about Mrs. Gandhi last week.

``Besides leaving a bad taste,″ Vajpayee said in a statement, such comments ``have served to shift the focus away from the real issues in the coming elections.″

Vajpayee’s election coalition, the National Democratic Alliance, has raised the issues of Mrs. Gandhi’s Italian birth, lack of political experience and connection to a family dynasty during the campaign for parliamentary elections, which begin Sunday.

Mrs. Gandhi is the widow of former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi and the daughter-in-law of former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi, both of whom were assassinated.

Mrs. Gandhi would be a possible prime ministerial candidate if her Congress party wins, or forms a majority coalition, in the race for seats in the Lok Sabha, or lower house of Parliament.

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