The political slugfest over the Rafale issue touched a new low on Monday with the BJP accusing Rahul Gandhi of being involved in a "conspiracy, internationally" to sabotage the fighter aircraft deal and benefit his brother-in-law Robert Vadra, while the Congress chief, in a veiled attack, called Prime Minister Narendra Modi "India's commander-in-thief".
BJP alleged that Gandhi is involved in a "conspiracy internationally" and former French president Francois Hollande is part of the "nexus" to sabotage the procurement, and claimed that the Congress chief wants it scrapped to help a firm linked to Vadra.
Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Union minister Gajendra Shekhawat also hinted at Pakistan's role in the conspiracy, saying one of its leaders, former interior minister Rehman Malik, has even tweeted that Gandhi will be the next Indian prime minister.
As allegations flew thick and fast, the Congress released a video showing Dassault CEO Eric Trappier telling a gathering at an event about "responsibility sharing" with HAL on the Rafale contract, indicating that it was almost finalised.
Watch Éric Trappier, Chairman @Dassault_OnAir, on 25/03/15 speak, in the presence of IAF & HAL Chiefs, about responsibility sharing on the Rafale contract. 17 days later PM Modi gave the contract to Reliance.@nsitharaman should resign for lying to the nation. #RafaleModiKaKhel pic.twitter.com/6VoIcFjPlg— Congress (@INCIndia) September 23, 2018
The Congress claimed that the video was of March 2015, barely days ahead of the announcement of the deal.
However, the veracity of the video could not be ascertained.
"What happened in a space of 17 days as Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced purchase of 36 Rafale jets on April 10, 2015, in Paris, abandoning Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) from the mega deal," Congress Spokesman Abhishek Singhvi asked.
The party also released another video of then Foreign Secretary S Jaishankar speaking at a press conference on April 8, 2015, that HAL was very much on board.
However, the BJP forcefully rejected Congress' charges of wrongdoing and benefiting Reliance Defence Ltd in the deal.
Shekhawat said there is a conspiracy to get the deal scrapped, defame the country and lower the morale of the Indian Air Force.
Referring to Hollande's reported comments that the Indian government had proposed Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence as a partner for Dassault Aviation for the Rafale deal, he said, "How Rahul Gandhi and he are linked as a part of nexus, and are trying to sabotage the deal needs to be understood."
Shekhawat alleged that Gandhi is involved in "conspiracy, internationally".
To a question whether Gandhi's meetings with foreign leaders during his trips abroad was part of this "conspiracy", he said, "Definitely, yes."
Earlier, a delegation of senior Congress leaders met the Central Vigilance Commissioner (CVC) and demanded registration of a case in alleged corruption in the multi-billion dollar deal, saying it has now emerged as India's biggest defence scam.
On Twitter, Gandhi posted a video relating to French publication Mediapart which carried a story last week quoting Hollande that Reliance Defence was proposed by the Indian government to partner with Dassault Aviation for the contract.
"The sad truth about India's Commander in Thief," Gandhi said on Twitter, in what appeared to be an attack on the prime minister.
The sad truth about India's Commander in Thief. pic.twitter.com/USrxqlJTWe— Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) September 24, 2018
Addressing a meeting in his parliamentary constituency of Amethi, Gandhi alleged that the country's "chowkidar" Modi snatched money from the poor martyrs and the jawans, and handed it over to industrialist Anil Ambani.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman spoke about an "international dimension" to Gandhi's attack on the Prime Minister over the deal, and told reporters that Hollande's comments were not a coincidence.
In Jaipur, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar termed Gandhi a "directionless leader" and said the Congress chief and his party have no hope to return to power, therefore, they were trying to create a campaign on the basis of lies and speculations against the BJP government.
The senior BJP leader said Gandhi has no facts and evidence against the government over the Rafale deal.
In Lucknow, Home Minister Rajnath Singh said following "clarifications" from Hollande, there is no room for any doubt in the matter. He also accused the Congress of trying to gain political mileage over the issue with an eye on the Lok Sabha elections next year.
The Rafale controversy took a new turn last week after Hollande, who was French president when the Rs 580-billion deal was announced, was quoted as saying by French publication Mediapart on Friday that France was given "no choice" on selection of the Indian partner for Dassault and the Indian government proposed the name of Reliance as offset partner for the French aerospace giant.
Modi had announced the procurement of 36 Rafale fighters after holding talks with Hollande on April 10, 2015, in Paris.
A day later, when asked by AFP whether India had put pressure on Reliance and Dassault to work together, Hollande said he was unaware and "only Dassault can comment on this".
Referring to Congress leader Mani Shankar Aiyar's statements in Pakistan long back that Narendra Modi needs to be removed as the prime minister, BJP spokesperson Sambit Patra drew a parallel between the opposition party and Pakistani leaders, saying "both want Prime Minister Narendra Modi removed from Indian politics".
He read out tweets attacking Modi posted by Pakistani leaders, including its Prime Minister Imran Khan and present and former ministers, and said it looked like they have been campaigning for Congress president Rahul Gandhi.