Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Wednesday accused Congress president Rahul Gandhi of insulting "India's first woman defence minister" Nirmala Sitharaman in the Rafale controversy. Rahul Gandhi had said that the prime minister "got a woman to defend him" in parliament instead of confronting the debate on the fighter jet deal that is at the core of a huge political row.
"For the first time, a daughter of the county has become defence minister. It is a matter of pride. 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. Not just the minister but they are insulting India's women power," PM Modi said at a rally in Agra in Uttar Pradesh on Wednesday.
Later in the evening, Mr Gandhi hit back with a comment that was seen to be as sexist as his previous one. "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
It all started when at a rally in Rajasthan earlier in the day, the Congress chief mocked PM Modi saying he told a woman to defend him on Rafale in parliament.
"The watchman with a 56-inch chest ran away and told a woman, Sitharaman ji, 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," said Mr Gandhi, using the word 'mahila (woman)' several times in the much-criticised comment.
Union Minister Sushma Swaraj tweeted that the comment marked a "new low" in the history of Indian politics.
Nirmala Sitharaman, 59, is the first full-time woman defence minister of the country, but Indira Gandhi was the first woman to hold the defence portfolio.
Earlier this week, Ms Sitharaman delivered a marathon rebuttal 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 kept accusing the prime minister of running away from the debate and fielding the minister.
He also demanded a "yes or no" answer from the Defence Minister on whether the defence ministry or the Air Force raised objections when an earlier deal for 126 Rafale jets negotiated by the previous Congress-led UPA was scrapped.
The ruling BJP alleges that the previous plan didn't materialise because the Congress failed to score a lucrative deal.
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