Escalating his high-pitch campaign against the Modi government over the Rafale deal, Congress president Rahul Gandhi Saturday asserted that his party would fight on the issue in "every street" in the country.
Gandhi also accused the Modi government of destroying the "strategic asset" state-run aerospace company HAL and told its employees that "Rafale is your right."
Giving a new twist to his strident Rafale campaign, Gandhi sought to reach out to present and former HAL employees, alleging that "temples of modern India are being attacked and destroyed; we cannot allow it to be done."
"Rafale is your right; you are a 78-year-old company.
"You have worked now for more than 70 years. Ifsomebody thinks that they can build their future on top ofyour graves, that is also not going to be allowed," he said.
He said it was "completely ridiculous" for the government to say that HAL did not have the required experience.
Speaking to reporters, Gandhi accused defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman of having rushed to France "to cover up there, but cover up cannot happen because truth iscoming out..."
"We will fight this on every street in India, wewill stand with HAL and fight this, we will stand with AirForce and fight this.
We will stand with every single personwho is protecting India and fight this."
Asked whether he was implying that there was corruption in the Rafale deal, he said, "I'm not implying,I'm saying very clearly corruption has taken place, kickbacks are there, Rs 30,000 crore has been taken and given to Anil Ambani and snatched from these people (HAL employees)."
Gandhi told the gathering that he understood 'deeply' that they were pained and hurt and "this is as important to me as any corruption or anything that has happened."
"People who have given their lives, people who have stood by this country are feeling emotionally upset because they have been insulted.
I know that the government is not going to apologise, but on their behalf I apologise to you, even though I have nothing to do with it."
The gravamen of most of the employees who spoke was that HAL had the capability to make Rafale,but an attempt was being made to "dismantle" the defence PSU and the workers feel "hurt and let down."
Gandhi said the work done by HAL for the country was tremendous and the country owed a debt to it for "protecting us" and creating a scientific vision.
HAL is a strategic asset in aerospace, not an ordinary or regular company, he said.
Gandhi told reporters that Sitharaman talked about lack of experience of HAL, but had not said anything about the lack of experience of Anil Ambani, "who has never built a plane in his life."
"HAL has no debt, he has Rs 45,000 crore of debt. HAL has been working for 78 years. His company has been working for 12 days. So she has no comment about the person who got the contract. She has to comment about HAL's experience."
Gandhi demanded to know why the order was being taken away from HAL when it had all the experience.
"Why hasn't the work being given to them? Why is HAL being destroyed by Anil Ambani... that is the question.
He said the employees felt hurt over the fact that their hard work over the last 78 years, their patriotism, has been insulted and questioned by the government through the defence minister.
"So the first thing is that they expect an apology from the Defence Minister for insulting HAL.
We understand that the Defence Minister is not going to apologise," he said.
We are here to defend the people who are defending the nation. From the government, we have to defend HAL," he said.
Ahead of Gandhi's interaction, HAL had issued an internal communication to its employees Friday, as a reminder on their obligations on conduct and discipline in the interest of the company.
The HAL employees union said an interaction was sought with the employees, but they decided not to take part as the union was apolitical.
Karnataka state Congress chief Dinesh Gundu Rao said the discussion was not organised by Congress, but by "some people", including ex-employees, who are "pained" by the government's attempts to "ruin HAL's name".
Gandhi's interaction is part of his onslaught against the Modi government over the Rafale deal in which he has alleged that HAL was overlooked in the offsets contracts with French aerospace company Dassault Aviation, preferring Anil Ambani's company.
Congress, which has been accusing the government of benefiting Reliance Defence Ltd of Anil Ambani from the deal, has also been demanding answers on why the HAL was not involved in the deal as finalised during the UPA regime.
Gandhi had been saying that had HAL been selected in place of Reliance Defence, it could have generated employment to scores of unemployed youth in the state.
However, the BJP and Reliance Defence have dismissed all the allegations as false.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)