Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Wednesday said he empathises with Goa chief minister Manohar Parrikar for being "forced" to accuse him of doing petty politics over a courtesy visit and asserted he never shared any details of their meeting.
Replying to Parrikar, hours after the former defence minister wrote to him, Gandhi said in his two speeches since their meeting in Panaji, he had only referred to what is already in the public domain on the Rafale deal and what the chief minister had said earlier.
The ailing Goa chief minister on Wednesday accused the Congress chief of using his courtesy visit to him for "petty political gains", asserting that there was no mention of the Rafale issue in their five-minute meeting.
Several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders, including party president Amit Shah, also attacked Gandhi.
Gandhi said he was forced to write back to Parrikar to clarify his position on the issue as the chief minister's letter to him has created an "unfortunate and unnecessary controversy".
"Parrikar Ji, I empathise with your situation. I understand the immense pressure you are under after our meeting yesterday. Pressure that has forced you to take the highly unusual step of demonstrating your loyalty to the PM and his cronies by attacking me in this uncharacteristic manner," Gandhi said in his letter, which he also posted on Facebook and Twitter.
Wishing the Goa chief minister a speedy recovery once again, the Congress chief said he is "disturbed" to hear about a letter which Parrikar has supposedly written to him, "but instead leaked to the press before I have had a chance to read it".
"I have not shared any details of my conversation with you when we met in Goa yesterday. In my two speeches since we met, I have referred to what is already in the public domain," Gandhi claimed.
"Respectfully, my visit to you was strictly personal and driven purely by my empathy for your situation. You will no doubt recall that I also called you when you were undergoing treatment in the United States to enquire after your health and wish you well.
"However Parrikar Ji, regardless of my visit, I am a democratic representative, elected to serve the Indian people, and as such I reserve the absolute right to attack the corrupt PM on his blatant dishonesty in the RAFALE deal," he said.
The Congress chief claimed that in April 2015, when Parrikar was inaugurating a fish market in Goa, Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the Rafale deal in France with the then French president Francois Hollande.
"It is also a fact that you clearly stated to the press that you had no idea about the new deal engineered by the PM. This has been widely reported in all sections of the media," he said in his letter.
"Again, it is a fact that there is an audio recording of your own Cabinet colleague in Goa, claiming you told ministers in a cabinet meeting that you have the RAFALE papers in your 'bed room', implying that you have power over PM Modi and his cronies," he claimed.
The BJP had at that time dubbed the tape as forged.
On Tuesday, hours after meeting Parrikar at the Goa Assembly complex in Panaji, Gandhi had told Congress workers in Kochi that the former defence minister had said he had nothing to do with the Rafale fighter jet deal.
"Friends, the ex-defence minister Mr Parrikar clearly stated that he has nothing to do with the new deal that was orchestrated by Mr Narendra Modi to benefit Anil Ambani," he had said.
Ripping into Gandhi, BJP chief Shah charged him with "lying" in the name of a person fighting a disease and claiming that people of India are "disgusted by your reckless behaviour".
In his letter, Parrikar asked Gandhi not to use his visit to an ailing person to "feed political opportunism", saying that paying a courtesy visit and then stooping so low to make a false statement for petty political gains has raised in his mind questions about sincerity and purpose of the visit.
He said he felt let down that Gandhi used this visit for his petty political gains as the five minutes they spent together, neither did the Congress president say anything about Rafale nor did they discuss anything related to it.
"Here I am fighting against a life-threatening illness. Due to my training and ideological strength, I wish to serve Goa and its people against any/all odds. I thought your visit would give me your good wishes in that cause of serving our people. Little did I know that you had other intentions," Parrikar wrote.