Asking opposition parties to use common sense, Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday slammed them for questioning his statement that the presence of Rafale fighter jets would have given greater firepower to the Indian Air Force during the February 27 aerial engagement with Pakistan.
As the political dogfight over Modi's remarks escalated with the Congress demanding an apology from him for trying to portray the Indian Air Force as being weaker without Rafale, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal B S Dhanoa declined to comment on the statement that the French jets would have made a difference.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Monday got 'Kochi' in Kerala and 'Karachi' in Pakistan mixed up in a slip of the tongue but quickly covered it up by saying that his mind these days is preoccupied with the neighbouring country.
Extolling the virtues of the Ayushman Bharat health scheme, Modi said it allowed a resident of Jamnagar to avail treatment anywhere in the country, be it 'Kolkata' or 'Karachi'.
Almost in the same breath, the PM set things right by telling the gathering he meant 'Kochi' and not 'Karachi'.
"Under the Ayushman Bharat scheme, if a resident of Jamangar has gone to Bhopal and falls sick, he need not come back to Jamnagar for treatment. If he shows his (Ayushman Bharat) beneficiary card, he will get free treatment even in Kolkata and even in Karachi," Modi told a gathering in Jamnagar.
He, however, added, "Not Karachi but Kochi. Nowadays my mind is preoccupied with the thoughts of the neighbouring country."
"But that (air strike in Pakistan) was also necessary. Should that be done or not?" he posed to the crowd which replied its assent with a round of applause.
"I said if Rafale was acquired in time it would have made a difference (during the February 27 dogfight), but they (opposition parties) say Modi is questioning our air force strike," Modi said, addressing a gathering in Jamnagar in Gujarat.
"Please use common sense. What I said was if we had Rafale at the time (of aerial dogfight), then none of our fighter jets would have gone down and none of theirs saved," he added.
India lost one MiG 21 jet during the fierce dogfight in which one F-16 warplane of Pakistan Air Force(PAF) was also shot down.
"If they(opposition) don't understand me what can I do. They have their own limitations," he told the audience during his 40-minute speech rendered in Gujarati.
Congress spokesperson R P N Singh accused the prime minister and Bharatiya Janata Party leadership of politicising the air strikes and said Modi should apologise to the country for trying to portray the IAF as being weaker without Rafale.
"Here is the prime minister, who says that the Air Force would have been much stronger if we had Rafale (fighter jets). We would like the prime minister to apologize for saying that.....
"The prime minister has tried to show that the Air Force is weaker because it does not have Rafale. We would like him to apologise for saying so because the Indian Air Force has always protected our skies and given a befitting reply, whenever it has been attacked by the Pakistanis," Singh told reporters in Delhi.
The Congress on Sunday claimed that Modi has himself 'questioned' the anti-terror air strike in Balakot in Pakistan on February 26 by his remarks that the country is feeling the absence of Rafale jets as the results could have been different if India had these aircraft.
"The prime minister has himself questioned the air strike. He said had the Rafale jets been there (with the IAF), the results would have been different. What is the meaning of this?" Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari told a press conference in Delhi.
Modi had on Saturday hit out at the opposition for doubting the armed forces on the anti-terror air strike in Pakistan and said the country was feeling the absence of Rafale fighter jets as the results could have been different if India had these aircraft.
"India is feeling the absence of Rafale. The entire country is saying in one voice today, if we had Rafale probably the result would have been different. The country has suffered a lot due to selfish interests earlier and now politics over Rafale," he had said at the India Today Conclave.
Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa told reporters in Coimbatore that the Rafale fighters should come into India's inventory by September.
"Yes, we have a plan for inducting new aircraft and that is why we have signed contract for 36 Rafale jets."
Eventually, Jaguar, MiG-29, and Mirage 2000 aircraft will be replaced by Tejas Mk-2 and then the 'next step' will be on Advanced Medium Combat Aircrafts, he said.
When an adversary attacks you, every aircraft is used, Air Chief Marshal Dhanoa said, adding that the MiG 21 jet used in the dog fight with Pakistan is an upgraded aircraft with advanced weapons system.
"The MiG 21 Bison is in our inventory, why not use it?...I will not comment on the ongoing operation because they are still ongoing. MIG-21 Bison is capable.
"It has been upgraded... It has got a better weapons system, better radars, better air-to-air missiles... whatever it takes to make it from third generation to 3.5 generation (aircraft) or so," said the IAF chief.
Bahujan Samaj Party chief Mayawati attacked Modi for his remarks on Rafale jets, asking why the Bharatiya Janata Party government at the Centre did not induct even one of these fighters into the IAF during its tenure.
'Rafale fighter could have proven useful in fight against Pakistan, claims PM Modi in his rallies. Even then not a single Rafale inducted into IAF fleet during his government's tenure. Better explain people why this kind of lapse and neglect even by the BJP on the issue of country's safety and security?' Mayawati said in a tweet.
The Centre and the Opposition are locked in a massive political row over the deal for procurement of 36 Rafale jets from France.
Lashing out at statements from opposition party leaders who demanded proof of the February 26 air strike on a Jaish-e-Mohammed(JeM) terror camp in Pakistan's Balakot, Modi said his objective was to end terror while that of the opposition was to remove him.
"The root of terrorism disease is in the neighbouring country, should we not cure the disease from its roots," he said.
"Even if mentors of those seeking to destroy India are outside, this country won't sit quietly," he said in his address after inaugurating an annexe building of Guru Govind Singh hospital and various other development works.
Modi also flagged off the Bandra-Jamnagar Humsafar Express and launched development projects, including the 51-km pipeline from Aaji-3 to Khijadia.
He said structural and long-term measures are required to overcome the challenges faced by the country, instead of poorly thought out short term ones.
Hospitals that have come up in the past few years in Gujarat will greatly benefit the poor, he said. The Ayushman Bharat scheme rolled out by the Union Government will ensure affordable and quality healthcare for the poor, he added.
Modi lauded water conservation measures adopted by the Gujarat government. The government has big plans to provide water to people by establishing big desalination plants, he said.
Slamming the Congress, Modi said the party's programme was to announce farm loan waiver every ten years and collect votes by fooling people.
"Our government will give direct financial assistance to farmers every year. When Rs 75,000 crore will go to rural economy every year it will have a positive impact," Modi said.
Modi also said he will find out those responsible for terror acts in India 'even if they hide in the bowels of the earth'.
He asked the opposition not to malign India's armed forces.
"What our opposition leaders say become headlines in Pakistan newspaper today," Modi said.
In a veiled reference to India's air strike in Pakistan, Modi said, "If one work gets over, our government doesn't sleep, but gets ready for another."
"We won't lag behind when it comes to taking big and bitter decisions," he said.
Referring to the 2008 attack at Ahmedabad civil hospital, Modi said, "Should not those sitting in Delhi at that time have taught those sitting in Pakistan a lesson."