Ratcheting up his criticism of the prime minister over alleged corruption in the Rafale deal, Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Monday dared him to a debate and claimed Narendra Modi will not be able to answer his questions on the issue "even for a second".
Gandhi, on his first visit to Karnataka after his elevation as the Congress chief, targeted Modi on a variety of issues, including the recent incidents of rape of small girls in Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled states, farm loan waiver and the GST.
"Let there be a debate for however long you want.... Narendra Modi will not be able to answer my questions even for as second, because Narendra Modi has stolen from India.
"Narendra Modi favoured his friend Anil Ambani, whose company never had any experience of making an aircraft, in bagging the contract. The company was born 10 days before the contract was signed," Gandhi said, addressing a public rally, which the Congress had named "Jana Dhwani" (the voice of the people).
The Ambani group, which has been in the eye of a raging political storm over the fighter jet deal, had denied receiving any contract from the defence ministry and said "unfounded and incorrect" allegations were being made to "mislead people and cloud the issue".
Answering questions ranging from lack of experience to state-owned HAL being overlooked for the deal, the group said Dassault, the French firm that is to supply 36 Rafale fighter jets, chose Reliance Defence Ltd to meet its 'offset' or export obligation in the contract and that the defence ministry had no role in the selection of Indian partners by foreign vendors.
Gandhi said the previous UPA government had signed the contract so the public sector Hindustan Aeronautics Limited could make the aircraft through technology transfer and create employment for the youth of Karnataka.
"One day Narendra Modi goes to France and changes the terms of the contract. My dear young people, Modiji has taken away your jobs from you. If he has the guts, a 56-inch chest, bring your (the BJP's) prime minister in front of me, in front of the country.
"Why is he silent? Why is he scared? Why is he running away? Why is he not answering my questions looking into my eyes?.....Because chowkidar (the watchman) has become bhagidar (collaborator)," he said.
India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September last year for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore.
Rahul Gandhi has been repeatedly alleging that the cost of Rafale jets was inflated under the new terms of the contract.
He also accused Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of "lying" when she said the new price of the fighter aircraft could not be disclosed due to a secrecy clause in the contract.
"I met the French prime minister and he said there was no secrecy clause in the contract. Manmohan Singh (former prime minister) and Anand Sharma (Congress leader) were present," he said.
BJP president Amit Shah had on Friday rejected allegations of corruption in the deal, saying credence should be given to the statement of the defence minister who has said the base price of the Rafale fighters negotiated by the Modi government is less than what was finalised by the UPA dispensation.
Gandhi also attacked Modi over recent incidents of rape in BJP-ruled states like Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, saying the prime minister gave the slogan of 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' but he did not say from whom the girl child needed to be saved.
"Rape happens in Uttar Pradesh and a BJP leader is caught. When small girls in Bihar are raped, we see BJP leaders hanging around the place. But the prime minister does not speak a word about it," he said.
He assailed the prime minister over non-waiver of agricultural loans despite farm distress in many parts of the country.
Gandhi said the Congress-Janata Dal-Secular coalition government in Karnataka waived farm loans days after coming to power. He dared the Centre to share half of the financial burden the waiver will entail.
"You only make big promises. I challenge you to share 50 per cent of the burden of the loan waiver in Karnataka, as your party had also made such a promise in its manifesto.... If you have the guts, a 56-inch chest, do it," he said.
Gandhi said as soon as a Congress government assumes power at the Centre, it will convert the "Gabbar Singh Tax" into a GST that benefits people as also the small businesses.
Targeting the government over price rise, the Congress president said the prime minister was taking steps that benefited only his "super-rich" businessmen friends.
"He says he is the prime minister of India. He is not the prime minister of the country, but of 15 super-rich businessmen friends," he said.