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Posted at: Oct 9, 2019, 6:54 PM; last updated: Oct 9, 2019, 7:01 PM (IST)

Cong criticises Rafale ‘shastra puja’, BJP hits back with Bofors jibe

Cong criticises Rafale ‘shastra puja’, BJP hits back with Bofors jibe
Defence minister Rajnath Singh inaugurates the first of 36 Rafale fighter jets on October 8, 2019 at Dassault Aviation plant in Merignac. AFP

Vibha Sharma
Tribune News Service
New Delhi, October 9

By leading the charge on criticism of the ‘shastra puja’ performed by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on India’s new acquisition—the Rafale fighter jet—the Congress appears to have walked right into a trap.

Responding to senior Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge’s comment calling the Rafale ceremony a ‘tamasha’ (drama) while referring to how his party never made a show when the UPA led by it acquired the Bofors gun, the ruling BJP tweeted from its official handle: “Congress has problems with Air Force modernisation. Indian customs and traditions. For a party used to worshiping Quattrocchi, ‘shastra puja’ is naturally a problem. And, Kharge Ji, thank you for reminding us about the Bofors scam.”

“Not just Kharge, many Congress leaders have registered objection to the ‘shastra puja’, which defence officials say is very much a part of the ceremony whenever any new acquisition is made. It is not just about the ‘shastra puja’ on ‘Vijayadashmi’, whenever a new aircraft is inducted into a squadron a religious ceremony is part of the tradition,” they said.

Home Minister Amit Shah also hit back at the Congress for its criticism over the ‘shastra puja’ by Rajnath Singh during the handover ceremony of the Rafale jet in France on Tuesday. “Rajnath Singh performed ‘shastra puja’ of Rafale yesterday in France. The Congress did not like it. Is ‘shashtra puja’ not performed on Vijayadashmi? They should ponder over what needs to be criticised and what not,” the BJP chief was quoted as saying at an election rally in Haryana which goes to the polls on October 21.

In the run-up to General Elections, the Congress had tried to make the Rafale deal finalised by the Narendra Modi government an election issue, alleging corruption in the deal negotiated by the BJP-led dispensation. Finding Kharge’s criticism and opportune moment to hit back at the Congress, the saffron party thanked it for reminding the nation once again about the scandal related to illegal kickbacks paid in the multi-billion deal between the Swedish arms manufacturer Bofors with the then Congress-led government for the sale of 410 field howitzer guns.

“For a party used to worshipping Quattrocchi, ‘shastra puja’ is naturally a problem,” the BJP said. 

Italian businessman Ottavio Quattrocchi was named by the Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI) as the conduit for the Bofors bribe.

Kharge called the whole Rafale ceremony a “tamasha (drama)” and compared it to how his own party never did such a thing when buying weapons. “There is no need to do such ‘tamasha’. When we bought weapons — like the Bofors gun — no one went and brought them while showing off,” Kharge was quoted as saying.

The Bofors howitzer payoff scandal is one of the biggest corruption scandals in India in which Congress’ PM Rajiv Gandhi and many others were accused of receiving kickbacks from the Swedish gun manufacturer. It was called India’s ‘Watergate’ by a New York court after it led to the fall of the Rajiv Gandhi government. Defence minister Rajnath Singh performed “shastra pooja” at the induction ceremony in line with the Hindu tradition of warriors worshiping their weapons and arms on Dusehra. BJP’s ideological fountainhead RSS also holds a ‘shastra puja’ ceremony on the day.

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