The war of words between the Congress and the BJP over the Rafale issue turned uglier Tuesday as Rahul Gandhi accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of "treason" and acting as Anil Ambani's middleman, prompting the ruling party to claim that he worked as a lobbyist for foreign firms.
The Gandhi family has a history of "looting" the country, BJP leader Ravi Shankar Prasad said in a counter-attack, adding that it was height of "shamelessness and irresponsibility" that the Congress president "abused" the "honest" prime minister Modi.
Firing a fresh salvo at Modi, Gandhi released to the media an email dated March 28, 2015 purportedly written by Airbus executive Nicolas Chamussy to three recipients with the subject line "Ambani".
Quoting from the email, Gandhi claimed that Ambani was aware in advance of the Rafale deal before India and France announced it in 2015 during Modi's visit to the country and said that it was in violation of the Official Secrets Act.
Modi's action "puts him in jail", he said.
Dubbing Gandhi a "lying machine", Prasad asserted that the email referred to a chopper deal and not the Rafale purchase and also put Airbus in a dock by saying that it is under a needle of suspicion in several deals signed during the UPA era.
Reacting to Gandhi's claim, Ambani's Reliance Defence said the "proposed MoU" mentioned in the email cited by him was a reference to its cooperation with Airbus Helicopter and had "no connection" with the fighter jet contract.
In its response to Prasad's remarks against Airbus, its spokesperson said, "We do not comment on any ongoing investigation. We have cooperated with the Indian authorities in the past and will continue to do so."
At his press conference, Gandhi claimed the email showed Ambani visited then French defence minister Jean-Yves Le Drian's office and mentioned an "MoU in preparation and the intention to sign during the PM visit (to France)".
The Congress president asked how Ambani knew about the deal and mentioned it in the French defence minister's office when even then foreign secretary S Jaishankar and then defence minister Manohar Parrikar had no information on it.
"This is a breach of the Official Secrets Act... This is treason and this is what spies do. The prime minister is the only other person who knows about the deal and has informed Anil Ambani about the deal. The Prime Minister is acting as Anil Ambani's middleman," Gandhi alleged and called for a criminal investigation into the matter.
Hitting back, Prasad said, "Let Rahul Gandhi explain where did he get internal email of Airbus. Who is supplying him? ...There cannot be a bigger thing than this that he is working as a lobbyist for foreign firms."
The firm is also linked to a corporate lobbyist, who was recently deported from the UAE and is being probed on money laundering charges, he alleged.
He also took strong exception to the Congress leader charging Modi with "treason", saying his party had serious differences with former prime ministers coming from the Gandhi family over several "murky" defence deals signed during their term but it never accused them of treason.
"He (Rahul Gandhi) has thrown muck at his own face by abusing our honest prime minister... We will expose his lies before the public," he said.
Gandhi has repeatedly levelled allegations against the government over baseless claims, he said. "This is treason. He (Modi) is doing what spies do," Gandhi said.
Ambani had met the French defence minister days before the signing of the deal during Modi's visit to France in 2015, Gandhi said, quoting from the email written by an Airbus executive to a French official.The Congress president also rejected the Comptroller and Auditor General report on the Rafale deal, and dubbed it "Chowkidar Auditor General" report.
Prasad said the Congress has a tendency to target institutions when their stand does not suit them.
In its comments, Nationalist Congress Party alleged that Ambani negotiated the Rafale contract on behalf of Modi.
NCP national spokesperson Nawab Malik called the controversial fighter jet deal as "pre-planned loot of the country's money".
Reliance Defence spokesperson said the discussion on proposed the MoU was clearly with reference to cooperation between Airbus Helicopter and Reliance."It had no connection whatsoever with Government to Government Agreement between France and India for 36 Rafale aircraft," he said, adding that it is in public domain that Airbus Helicopter has partnered with Mahindra for the Military Helicopter Programme.