Prime Minister Narendra Modi today accused the Congress of insulting Nirmala Sitharaman, India’s “pioneer woman defense minister”, in the Rafale controversy. Rahul Gandhi had earlier alleged that the prime minister “got a woman” to defend him in parliament instead of facing the debate on the fighter jet deal at the core of a huge political row.
“For the first time, a daughter of the county has become defense minister. It is an issue of pride. Our defense minister silenced each one of the opposition parties in parliament (on Rafale) and exposed their lies. They were so stunned that now they are insulting a woman defense minister. Not just the minister but they are insulting India’s women power,” PM Modi stated at a rally in Agra in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday.
Earlier in the day, Rahul Gandhi had mocked PM Modi stating he told a woman to defend him on Rafale in parliament. “The watchman with a 56-inch chest ran away and told a woman, Sitharaman Ji, defend me. I won’t be able to defend myself, defend me. For two and a half hours, the woman could not defend him. I had asked a straight question – answer yes or no – but she couldn’t answer,” said the Congress president, utilizing the Hindi word ‘Mahila” for a woman.
Nirmala Sitharaman, 59, is the first full-time woman defense minister of the country, but Indira Gandhi was the first woman to hold the defense portfolio. Before, Ms Sitharaman delivered a marathon rebuttal in parliament to Rahul Gandhi’s allegations that PM Modi signed an overpriced deal for 36 Rafale jets to help industrialist Anil Ambani, whose inexperienced defense firm won an offset contract with Rafale-maker Dassault.
Rahul Gandhi kept accusing the prime minister of keeping away the debate by not attending parliament.
He also questioned a “yes or no” answer from the Defence Minister on whether the defense ministry or the Air Force raised objections when an earlier deal for 126 Rafale jets negotiated by the previous Congress-led UPA was scrapped. The ruling BJP alleges that the previous deal didn’t materialize because the Congress failed to score a lucrative deal.