When Congress veteran Mallikarjun Kharge termed the Shastra Puja performed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on the first Rafale fighter jet received by India as unnecessary "tamasha" (theatrics), he probably did not brace himself for condemnation from his own party.
Or maybe he did. Mr Kharge has not been in the best of terms with Sanjay Nirupam, the critic in question, over the last few weeks.
Rajnath Singh had conducted the Shastra Puja, a Hindu ritual involving the worship of weapons, on the hi-tech aircraft during the handover ceremony in France's Bordeaux on Tuesday. Footage of the event showed him drawing an "Om" symbol on the body of the combo jet and making religious offerings of flowers and a coconut as French officials looked on. "Performed Shastra Puja on the auspicious occasion of Vijayadashami. Worshipping weapons on Vijayadashami has been our tradition," he tweeted at the time.
Mr Kharge, who serves as the leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, was not impressed. "There is no need to do such tamasha (drama). When we bought weapons like the Bofors gun in the past, no one showed them off like these guys are doing," he said. "Our Air Force officers judged whether they were good or not. These people go and show off by sitting inside (the aircraft)."
Rajnath Singh had undertaken a brief sortie in the fighter jet after the handover ceremony.
Interestingly, Maharashtra Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam was among the first to criticise Mr Kharge for his comments on the ritual. "Shastra Puja cannot be called tamasha," he said. "Shastra Puja has always been a hallowed religious tradition in our country. The problem is that Khargeji is an atheist. But not everybody in the Congress party are atheists," news agency ANI quoted him as saying.
However, this barb was by no means the first aimed at Mr Kharge by Sanjay Nirupam over the last few days. Two days ago, he had launched a scathing attack on the veteran politican for allegedly denying him an opportunity to be heard in a party forum. "Great leader Khargeji had called a meeting of the Mumbai Regional Congress Committee yesterday to formulate the election strategy. The meeting got over in 15 minutes, but did he let anybody speak? He himself spoke, repeatedly trying to ridicule me. Will such great strategists save or destroy the Congress with their mala fide intent?" a tweet posted by the Mumbai-based politican read.
According to sources, Sanjay Nirupam is resentful of the party leadership "ignoring" his recommendations for candidates in the Maharashtra election -- set to be held on October 21.
The disgruntled leader had earlier predicted that the Congress will win just three to four seats in the upcoming Maharashtra elections, and accused Mr Kharge and other top leaders of conspiring to nudge out those close to former party chief Rahul Gandhi. He was rewarded with a sharp rebuke for his trouble.
The BJP also slammed Mr Kharge's remark by questioning his choice of issues to criticise the government, and alleged that the Congress had "worshipped" Ottavio Quattrocchi -- the alleged middleman in the Bofors deal -- while sealing it in the 1980s.
India is set to receive 18 Rafale jets by February 2021, and the rest by the middle of the following year.
(With inputs from ANI)