Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman Thursday described Rajiv Gandhi a martyr and said though the BJP respects him, that doesn't mean it won't talk about the "misrule and corruption" of his government.
She was backing Prime Minister Narendra Modi on his claim that the Gandhi family used the Navy's iconic aircraft carrier INS Viraat as its "personal taxi" when Rajiv Gandhi headed the Congress government in 1980s, to which the grand old party has raised strong objection.
Sitharaman claimed the issue related to the alleged misuse of INS Viraat by the Gandhi family had been in public domain for long and maintained that two leading national news magazines had written about it at length in 2013.
"The details regarding INS Viraat is in public domain. All know about it," the defence minister told reporters.
Sitharaman was replying to a query on Modi's claim that the Navy was made to host the Gandhi family and Rajiv Gandhi's in-laws, and a helicopter was also deployed in their service.
"INS Viraat was insulted by using it as a personal taxi. This happened when Rajiv Gandhi and his family was out for a 10-day vacation. INS Viraat was deployed for securing our maritime boundary. But it was diverted to take the Gandhi family which was out for a vacation," Modi had said at a poll rally in Delhi on Wednesday.
Rajiv Gandhi was the prime minister from 1984 to 1989.
"INS Viraat crew members have also accepted that Rajiv Gandhi, his family and his wife's family were ferried in the warship," Sitharaman claimed.
The defence minister alleged that the Congress had in the past misused the Army, Navy and the Air Force, and is now accusing the BJP of politicising the defence forces.
Asserting that Rajiv Gandhi was a prime minister who later became a martyr, Sitharaman said, "We respect him fully, but this does not mean we won't talk about his government's misrule, corruption and policies."
"Whenever we talk about the escape of (Union Carbide CEO) Warren Anderson, the prime accused in the Bhopal gas tragedy, the mention of the Rajiv Gandhi government is bound to be made.
"What is wrong in it?" she posed in reply to a question.
Sitharaman said some of Modi's recent statements were a reaction to repeated attacks on him by the Congress and other opposition parties.
"The way the opposition parties and their leaders were hurling abuses at the prime minister, he, after collecting (relevant information), was paying them back," she said.
The Congress doesn't have any issue and hence it is using abusive language against Modi, Sitharaman claimed, adding Rahul Gandhi was making baseless allegations regarding the Rafale jet deal to sully Modi's image.
The Congress president has repeatedly hurled "chowkidar chor hai" (the watchman is a thief) jibe at Modi to target him over the Rafale deal.
Asserting that the multi-crore fighter aircraft deal is in the country's interest, Sitharaman claimed that the CAG, the Supreme Court and other agencies have established no wrongdoing in the mega defence contract with France.
She said Rahul Gandhi was in a catch-22 situation after raising the Rafale deal issue and alleged that he was now speaking "lies" knowingly and out of compulsion to keep the issue alive.
Asked about claims of surgical strikes under the UPA government, the defence minister said, "I won't comment on surgical strike claims of the pre-Modi government."
"If surgical strikes took place earlier, why the then government did not reveal it? Now, when we have carried out the surgical strike why are they indulging in me too?" she asked.
She said the people of India had given the BJP a clear mandate in the 2014 Lok Sabha polls and Modi laid a strong foundation on it to take the country forward.
Respect for India has grown in the comity of nations in the last five years, Sitharaman said.
"The Modi government has adopted a zero tolerance policy on terrorism.
"We are thriving on the strong foundation and every Indian has faith in Modi. People are feeling absolutely secure under the Modi government," she added.