New Delhi, Jan 5 (PTI) The controversy over the Rafale deal refused to die even after the government’s defence on it in the Lok Sabha, with the Congress Saturday accusing Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and her senior colleagues of spinning a “web of lies” to hide the prime minister’s “falsehood”.

Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera levelled the allegation at a press conference held at the party’s headquarters here, a day after Sitharaman rebutted the Congress’ charges on the deal, and accused the rival party of spreading “falsehood” on the issue.

“The ministers in the court of this ‘king’ are lying, to hide the falsehood of the ‘king’. The defence minister said lies. It is not her fault.. her fault is that she’s a minister in a court of a ‘king’, who has uttered such a huge lie. And to hide that lie, the entire cabinet is lying,” he alleged, a day after the government’s defence in the Lok Sabha.

“And, lying inside Parliament, can there be a bigger crime than that,” Khera said.

The Congress has been targeting Prime Minister Narendra Modi on the deal alleging that price of each aircraft was sharply hiked from around Rs 526 crore, negotiated under deal during UPA, to Rs 1,600 crore and that the contract will help Anil Ambani get Rs 30,000 crore benefit through offset contract.

Vehemently rejecting the charges of corruption in the Rs 58,000 crore deal for procurement of 36 Rafale jets from France, Sitharaman, in a “point-by-point” rebuttal to opposition’s allegations, Friday said, “Defence Ministry has been functioning without dalals (middlemen) during five years of (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi. Rafale is a decision in national interest.” She also said the Bofors scam brought the Congress down, while Rafale will help Prime Minister Narendra Modi retain power.

Khera said Modi had bowed before entering Parliament, as if he was entering a temple. “And, there he and his ministers say lies,” he alleged.

“The first lie she said was that HAL and Dassault have no contract. On March 13, 2014 a workshare agrement was signed, was she not aware of this? She is a well-read person, so cannot say she was not aware of it. I cannot accept it. It is an attempt to add another layer of falsehood to his (Modi’s) lie,” Khera alleged.

The Congress spokesperson, during the press conference, also flashed old media reports on visit of French defence minister in October 2017, to buttress his claim that Sitharaman was “lying about not knowing the offset partner of Dassault (the maker of Rafale aircraft)”.

“In October 2017, French Defence Minster came to India, paid floral tribute to Amar Jawan Jyoti, and then held bilateral consultation with her Indian counterpart. She then visited Nagpur, where she participated in the foundation stone-laying ceremony of Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited, the joint venture project. The Maharashtra CM was present, and other BJP ministers were there too,” Khera said, quoting media reports.

“So, they are speaking lies after lies,” he claimed. Countering the Congress’ charge in Parliament, Sitharaman had Friday said that it was the Indian Air Force which suggested that the government buy two squadrons or 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition instead of 18, as was planned to be purchased under the Congress-led UPA government.

She had also accused the Congress of compromising with national security in the interest of the party’s “treasury” while deciding on buying 126 fighter jets.

Under the deal finalised by the NDA government, the delivery of first Rafale will happen in 2019, while the last of 36 jets will be delivered in 2022, the minister informed the House.

“The BJP is getting entangled in its web of lies. They have lied in court, while filing affidavit,” he alleged.

“If they had dealt with Rafale issue in a straight forward manner… but, don’t know if they would be be able to extricate themselves out of this web, they have spun around them,” he claimed.

Asked to respond on this allegation, Khera said, “They say their lies loud and repeatedly. So, we will tell truth loud and repeatedly.” Asked if Congress would bring privilege motion against Sitharaman, he only, said, “We believe in due process and parliamentary process.” “The number of aircraft was reduced from 126 to 36, HAL was kicked out and Anil Ambani’s firm was brought in,” he alleged, and claimed, “they cannot hide behind the veil of national security”.

The Congress Saturday hit back at the BJP also over its claim that it had acted against economic offenders such as Vijay Mallya, saying its government is claiming credit for everything as if those happened after it assumed office in 2014.

In response to a question while addressing the press conference, Khera said that going by the BJP’s “credit seeking” claims, India would be celebrating its fifth birthday on May 26, 2019.

This is published unedited from the PTI feed.