- Rahul Gandhi had said PM had a woman defend him during Rafale debate
- I would have made a very similar comment if it had been a man, he said
- PM accused Mr Gandhi of insulting "India's first woman defence minister"
Rahul Gandhi stood by his controversial remarks earlier this week targeting Defence Minister and Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the Rafale deal. The Congress president said he would have made similar comments had a man been there in place of Ms Sitharaman.
Addressing a press conference in Dubai, Mr Gandhi maintained his stand that PM Modi should have defended himself in parliament on the deal to purchase 36 Rafale jets from France.
"Prime Minister Narendra Modi has helped Anil Ambani steal Rs 30,000 crore and the House of the people Lok Sabha is where he should have defended himself but he chose to send another person and that person happened to be a woman. I would have made a very similar comment if it had been a man," news agency PTI quoted the Congress president as saying on Saturday.
Mr Gandhi also refused to be drawn into allegations of sexism against him. "Do not impose your sexism on me. I am very clear that the prime minister should have delivered that defence but he did not have the guts," he added.
A huge row broke out after after Rahul Gandhi, at a rally in Rajasthan on Wednesday, mocked PM Modi for not defending the Rafale deal in parliament.
"The watchman with a 56-inch chest ran away and told a woman, (Nirmala) Sitharamanji, 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," Mr Gandhi had said at the rally.
His comments drew a sharp response from the BJP. Union Minister Sushma Swaraj accused Mr Gandhi of marking a "new low" in Indian politics. Her colleague Smriti Irani followed with a tweet with the hashtag #MisogynistRahul.
Rahul Gandhi's comments on Defence Minister Nirmala Sitaraman's reply to a debate on a subject relating to Ministry of Defence is a new low in the history of Indian politics.- Sushma Swaraj (@SushmaSwaraj) January 9, 2019
PM Modi responded by accusing Rahul Gandhi of insulting "India's first woman defence minister".
"For the first time, a daughter of the country has become defence minister. Our defence minister silenced all the opposition parties in parliament (on Rafale) and exposed their lies. They were so stunned that now they are insulting a woman defence minister. They are insulting India's women power," the PM said at a rally in Agra.
Mr Gandhi had tweeted a response that turned out to be another specimen of sexism. "Stop shaking, Be a man," he tweeted.
With all due respect Modi Ji, in our culture respect for women begins at home.- Rahul Gandhi (@RahulGandhi) January 9, 2019
Stop shaking. Be a man and answer my question: Did the Air Force and Defence Ministry object when you bypassed the original Rafale deal?
Yes? Or No? #RafaleScam
The National Commission for Women also intervened in the matter and issued notice to the Congress president, with its chief calling his remarks "pathetic, sexist and misogynistic".
Ms Sitharaman had responded in parliament to Mr Gandhi's allegations that PM Modi signed an overpriced deal for 36 Rafale jets to help industrialist Anil Ambani, whose inexperienced defence firm won an offset contract with Rafale-maker Dassault.
Mr Gandhi has been accusing the prime minister of avoiding the debate and leaving the minister to defend him.
(With inputs from PTI)
Disclaimer: NDTV has been sued for 10,000 crores by Anil Ambani's Reliance Group for its coverage of the Rafale deal