- Rahul Gandhi on Sunday addressed a series of rallies in Maharashtra
- It was his first public appearance after stepping down as Congress chief
- In national elections, he had made the Rafale deal his main poll issue
Congress MP Rahul Gandhi, who is campaigning in Maharashtra for this month's assembly election, invoked the Rafale deal to attack the BJP at a rally, claiming there is some "guilt" in the minds of the party's leaders due to a "mistake" they had committed in the deal. Mr Gandhi on Sunday addressed a series of rallies in the state, making his first public appearance since he stepped down as the Congress president over his party's dismal performance in the national election.
Mr Gandhi had made the Rafale deal his main poll issue during the Lok Sabha campaign. He had attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi with allegations of corruption and crony capitalism. Mr Gandhi's aggressive "Chowkidar Chor Hai" campaign linked to the deal had flopped miserably or even actually backfired, Congress leaders had said after the BJP swept the national election.
"There has been some guilt in the minds of BJP leaders that they have made a mistake in the Rafale deal. Even defence officials had claimed that PM Narendra Modi is interfering in the Rafale fighter jet deal. No one can run away from this truth, neither Narendra Modi, nor Amit Shah or the BJP," he said at a rally on Sunday.
Mr Gandhi alleged Defence Minister Rajnath Singh went to France last week as the deal "still hurts" the party.
"The deal still hurts (the BJP) and hence our Defence Minister went to France to collect the first fighter plane. No one ever had gone to the supplying nation to collect the fighter plane like this," Mr Gandhi was quoted by news agency PTI as saying.
The first of the 36 high-precision Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft built by Dassault Aviation, with 13 India-specific enhancements sought by the Indian Air Force, was handed over to Mr Singh on Tuesday at a function in France.
Before taking a sortie in the new jet, Mr Singh performed a 'shastra puja' - a traditional veneration of weapons on the occasion of Vijaya Dashami.
His actions prompted criticism from opposition leaders, with Congress politician Mallikarjun Kharge, Leader of Opposition in the Lok Sabha, calling it "tamasha" or drama.
Mr Singh on Sunday said such comments only "strengthen Pakistan".
"They should have welcomed Rafale. Instead, they started criticising. Statements by Congress leaders only strengthen Pakistan," Mr Singh said at a rally in Haryana.
The first batch of four aircraft is expected to arrive in India in May next year. The rest of the aircraft will arrive by September 2022.
Elections in Haryana and Maharashtra are scheduled for October 21, with results due on October 24.