Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday accused the Opposition of insulting defence minister Sitharaman and “all the women in India” in the context of the Rafale debate in Parliament but did not cite specifics.
At a rally in Jaipur earlier in the day, Rahul Gandhi had taunted Modi saying “the watchman with a 56-inch chest” had “run away” from the Lok Sabha debate on Rafale, telling “a woman” to protect him.
Sitharaman had defended Modi at the January 4 House debate, which the Prime Minister had skipped.
Modi, who struck back at a public meeting in Agra, did not mention Rahul or his statement.
“Desh ki beti pahli bar raksha mantri bani. Woh 125 crore ke desh ki nariyon ka abhiman ke vishay hai. Nari raksha mantri ne virodhi netaon ke chhakke chhura diye. Unki ankhen fati ki fati rah gayin…. Mahila raksha mantri ka apman poori Hindustan ki nari shakti ka apman hai,” he said.
A translation: “For the first time a daughter of the country has become defence minister. She is the pride of the women of this country of 125 crore people. The woman defence minister hit the Opposition leaders for a six. They were left goggle-eyed. An insult to the woman defence minister is an insult to all the women in India.”
Rahul had said in Jaipur: “The defence minister spoke for over two hours (during the Lok Sabha debate on Rafale) but couldn’t answer — with a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ — my question whether officials of the defence ministry or the air force had objected to the Prime Minister’s decision to change the (UPA-negotiated) deal.”
Illustration by Rahul Awasthi
Modi, who also addressed a rally in Solapur on Wednesday, hit back at Rahul in the Maharashtra city by appearing to link him to Christian Michel, the alleged middleman in the AgustaWestland VVIP chopper scandal.
He did not mention the Congress president by name but demanded that the party explain “which leader of the party, now talking about Rafale” was linked to Michel.
The Enforcement Directorate has told a Delhi court that Michel had referred to a “Mrs Gandhi”, a “son of the Italian lady” and a certain “R” but did not explain the context of the purported remarks. It has also alleged that Michel had lobbied for fighter planes manufactured by Rafale maker Dassault’s rival companies.
“He (Michel) was lobbying for some other fighter jet. The Congress should explain the links between their leader and the middleman,” Modi said.
He alleged that the Congress had delayed inking the Rafale deal to accommodate some other company.
“Under earlier governments, middlemen were a part of the business culture. They snatched the rights of the people and played with the nation’s security. I have put a stop to that,” he said.
Referring to himself as chowkidar (watchman) — a term that has come under a cloud with Rahul’s refrain of “chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is a thief)” — Modi said he was not scared.
“Modi cannot be bought or scared. I am made from a different kind of soil. I don’t sleep and can identify wrongdoers in the darkness. I am here on a safai (cleanliness) mission. They can abuse me but cannot stop me,” he said.
In Agra, Modi defended his government’s move to grant reservation to the economically backward, saying: “We have done it without stealing from the quotas of the Scheduled Castes or the OBCs. We were concerned about the poverty among the upper castes.”
He added: “The Opposition claims we did this when the elections were round the corner, but elections go on in the country all the time. Had we done it before, they would have cited the elections in Madhya Pradesh and Chhattisgarh.”
He inaugurated or laid the foundation stones for development projects worth Rs 3,500 core, including some relating to drinking water, the cleaning of the Yamuna and beautification of Agra city.
Modi said there was a plan to install 1,200 CCTV cameras in Agra “to ensure people don’t face traffic problems and that the city cleaners do their jobs and prevent garbage pile-ups”.
On December 31, the authorities had admitted that 90 of the 140 CCTV cameras inside the Taj Mahal had been defunct for more than a year because the Yogi Adityanath government had not yet sanctioned the repair funds of Rs 1.89 crore. Adityanath attended Modi’s rally.
In Solapur, too, the Prime Minister inaugurated or laid the foundation stones for a slew of government projects.