Amid bitter exchanges between the Congress and the BJP over the Rafale jet deal, Union Minister Arun Jaitley launched a blistering attack on Congress chief Rahul Gandhi, saying how many lies were necessary to be peddled to save a "sinking dynasty". He was replying to the party's charge on Comptroller and Auditor General (CAG) Rajiv Mehrishi of being "complicit in the irregularities" in the deal.
"In 2014-15, the present CAG was Secretary (Economic Affairs) in the Ministry of Finance. Being a seniormost at one point of time, he was also designated as the Finance Secretary. I say this without fear of contradiction that no file or paper relating to the Rafale transaction ever reached him nor was he in any way, directly or indirectly, associated with the decision making on defence purchases," Mr Jaitley wrote in a blog post on Facebook.
The Congress has been demanding a probe into the Rafale jet deal. It has been attacking the CAG, alleging that his report wouldn't be objective as Mr Mehrishi was the Finance Secretary when the negotiations started.
"CAG is going to completely save the government in its report. The whole deal was materialised in the supervision of Rajiv Mehrishi who was the then Finance Secretary. When the negotiations started the Ministry of Finance were part of it," Congress leader Kapil Sibal said on Monday.
Mr Jaitley described the allegation as among the falsehoods "manufactured on a daily basis".
"How many lies are necessary to be peddled to save a sinking dynasty? The contagion effect of falsehood is fairly large. It appears to have spread to other colleagues in the 'Mahajhootbandhan'. In relation to the Rafale deal where thousands of crores of public money has been saved, a new falsehood is manufactured on a daily basis. The latest is in relation to the present CAG and his participation in the decision making process of Rafale," he added.
The BJP says that Mr Gandhi and his family run a dynasty of sorts in the Congress, alluding to a number of Congress presidents coming from the Nehru-Gandhi family.
"The grand old party of Indian politics has sadly become a captive of a dynasty. Many of its senior leaders lack the courage and moral authority to advise the dynasts to change course. This trend started in early 1970s; climaxed during the Emergency and has continued eversince," Mr Jaitley said.
Mr Gandhi, who has been alleging irregularities in the Rafale deal, intensified his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi after The Hindu published a 2015 internal note in which the Defence Ministry expressed its strong reservations to "parallel negotiations" conducted by the Prime Minister's Office with France on the deal.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman rejected the report as "selective" and "slanderous". "They are flogging a dead horse. Periodical enquiries by the PMO cannot be construed as interference," she had said.
Rahul Gandhi said today that PM Modi was "acting as Anil Ambani's middleman." He was citing an email that he said revealed the industrialist had visited Paris and met with the French Defence Minister, 10 days before the PM went there and announced the 36-jet deal with France.
In a strong retort, Union Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said Mr Gandhi was acting as a "lobbyist for companies".
"How Rahul Gandhi got the email of a private company is in a cloud. Regardless of the shameful manner in which Rahul Gandhi is acting as a lobbyist for companies, the country will not bend. The country needs fighter planes and good defence equipment."
Disclaimer: NDTV has been sued for 10,000 crores by Anil Ambani's Reliance Group for its coverage of the Rafale deal