New Delhi: In an escalation of the political battle between the BJP and the Congress on the Rafale jet deal, defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Sunday hit back at Congress president Rahul Gandhi after he accused her of lying in Parliament about procurement orders worth Rs 1 lakh crore for state-run aerospace major Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
In her counter offensive, Ms Sitharaman said it was a matter of “shame” that the Congress president is misleading the country on the issue. She also tweeted details of contracts awarded to HAL since 2014 when the BJP came to power.
“It’s a shame that the president of @INCIndia is misleading the nation. HAL has signed contracts worth `26,570.8 cr (between 2014 and 2018) and contracts worth `73,000 cr are in the pipeline. Will @RahulGandhi apologise to the country from the floor of the House?” the defence minister tweeted.
In a scathing attack on Mr Gandhi, BJP leader and Union minister Smriti Irani also accused him of “hurting” the Parliament’s and a woman minister’s (Nirmala Sitharaman) dignity by “winking” in the Lok Sabha as the defence minister replied to the Rafale debate on Friday.
“We do not expect values from him but we do hope that he maintains the dignity of Parliament,” Ms Irani told reporters.
BJP president Amit Shah also attacked Rahul Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi over a court order asking the publishers of the National Herald newspaper to vacate a premises in Delhi
Without taking the name of Herald House while addressing party workers in Union Territory of Dadra and Nagar Haveli, Mr Shah alleged that the mother-son duo tried to evade `600 crore in income tax and had sought to illegally register a public property worth crores in their name.
“Those appropriating public property cannot target Mr Modi. When Mr Rahul Gandhi levels corruption charges against Mr Modi, he should first open his eyes. His entire family lineage is mired in corruption charges and
there is not a single blot on Prime Minister Modi,” Mr Shah said.
Earlier, Mr Gandhi alleged that defence minister Sitharaman “lied” in Parliament that government orders worth `one lakh crore were given to HAL. He demanded that she should either place the documents in support of her statement in the House or resign.
Mr Gandhi’s attack came after a media report claimed that “not a single rupee of the said `1 lakh crore has come to HAL, since not a single order, as claimed, has been signed till now”. The media report cited senior HAL management officials in order to back its claim.
“When you tell one lie, you need to keep spinning out more lies, to cover up the first one. In her eagerness to defend the PM’s Rafale lie, the RM lied to Parliament,” Mr Gandhi tweeted.
“Tomorrow, RM must place before Parliament documents showing `1 lakh crore of govt orders to HAL. Or resign,” he said.
Congress’s chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala tweeted, “The lying defence minister’s lies get exposed! Defence minister claimed that procurement orders worth `1 lakh crore provided to HAL! HAL says not a single paisa has come, as not a single order has been signed!”
“For the first time, HAL forced to take a loan of `1,000 cr to pay salaries!,” he added.
The Congress has been targeting the government, alleging that it denied the HAL an offset contract under the Rafale fighter jet deal with France, a charge the government has denied.
The BJP-led National Democratic Alliance (NDA) government has accused the Congress of not supporting HAL during its rule and asserted that the government is now strengthening the defence public sector undertaking.
The Congress on Saturday accused Mr Modi of “weakening”” the HAL to help his “suit-boot” friend, an indirect reference to Reliance Defence owner Anil Ambani who has got an offset contract in the jet deal.