Cong objecting to writing Om, emboldening Pak with its statements: Rajnath on Shastra Puja row

(Eds: With additional inputs, changing slug) Karnal, Oct 13 (PTI) Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Sunday hit back at the Congress which criticised him for going to France to receive the first Rafale fighter jet and doing Shastra Puja, saying the opposition party was only emboldening Pakistan by such statements. Addressing election rallies in Karnal and Pataudi in Haryana, the BJP leader also questioned why the Congress has an "objection" to writing the word 'Om' on the aircraft and noted that when he was performing 'puja' in France, people of various faiths were present there including Muslims, Christians and Sikhs who were all "cooperating" during the ceremony. After getting Rafale jets from France, he said, "we don't have to enter their territory to wipe out terrorists, now sitting here in India only we can do 'Jai Shri Ram'. But he reiterated the jets were meant only for self-defence and not for aggression. Singh said the Congress should have been happy that the country is being strengthened but it could not do so as its "intentions were wrong". His remarks came on a day Congress leader Rahul Gandhi again raised the Rafale issue, questioning the "purpose" of the Defence Minister's "unprecedented" visit to France to receive the first Rafale fighter jet and saying BJP leaders are bearing "guilt" in their minds for making "mistakes" in the controversial deal. Attacking the Congress for raising aspersions on the Rafale deal, Rajnath Singh said it should be taught a "befitting lesson in these assembly polls, like in Lok Sabha elections. I come from an ordinary background. I said we are getting a powerful plane to fight. Before we use it, we should perform a 'puja'. "I wrote Om (tilak) on it (the aircraft), broke a coconut (as per tradition), tied a 'raksha bandhan' around the plane. But Congress raked up a controversy, saying we have become communal. They have objection to even 'Om' being written, Singh said. Haryana goes to polls on October 21 and ruling Bharatiya Janata Party has set a target to win over 75 of the 90 Assembly seats. Chief Minister Manohar Lal Khattar is contesting again from Karnal. "I want to ask is 'Om' not written in your homes. Sikh brethren sitting here, I want to ask do they not chant Ek Onkar. "Do our Christians not say Amen, do our Muslim brothers not say Amen.... Questions are being raised on this. When I was performing 'puja' there, there were people of various faiths present there including Muslims, Christians, Hindus and Sikhs. All of them were cooperating," Singh said. "Congress should have welcomed that we are getting this fighter plane, but they started criticism. They keep speaking without paying heed.... And if anyone gets emboldened with their statements, it is Pakistan. That is why I am saying they should be taught a befitting lesson in these assembly polls, like you did in Lok Sabha elections, he told the gathering. The Congress and the BJP have been engaged in a war of words over Singh visiting France to receive the first Rafale fighter jet and performing Shastra Puja on the aircraft, with opposition party leaders terming it as "drama. Congress leader Rahul Gandhi, who had raised the issue of alleged corruption in Rafale deal in a big way in the recent Lok Sabha elections, again raked it up at an election rally in Maharashtra on Sunday. "It seems the Rafale deal is still hurting the BJP... (If not) Why Rajnath Singh went to France to receive the first fighter jet?" Gandhi asked. "There has been some guilt in the minds of BJP leaders that they have made a mistake in the Rafale deal.... hence our defence minister went to France to collect the first fighter plane. So far, no one ever had gone to the supplying nation to collect the fighter plane like this," he said. At a ceremony in Merignac France on Tuesday, Rajnath Singh formally took delivery of the first of the 36 long-awaited French-made aircraft acquired by the Indian Air Force. He performed puja on the new aircraft as he emblazoned it with an 'Om' tilak and laid flowers and a coconut, just before he took a sortie in the two-seater jet. The Opposition party accused the BJP of politicising a defence acquisition. PTI SUN VSD RTRT