"Lemons to protect Rafale" part of Indian culture, Nirmala Sitharaman defends Rajnath Singh

Pune: Union Finance Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday defended her cabinet colleague Rajnath Singh performing 'puja' of a Rafale jet by placing lemons under its wheels and coconut on the top, and said the action was not superstition but a part of Indian culture.

Pictures of Singh receiving the first Rafale jet in France had shown him drawing an "Om" sign in devnagri script on the cutting edge plane and also placing lemons under the wheels. "So what is wrong? We strongly believe that you need to have the strength to be able to take such decisions and benefit the country," she said.

"You may not approve of it, you may think oh this is superstition, never mind. vishwas jinka hai woh karte hain, iss desh mein usko mahatva hai (those who have faith, they do it) and I think he (Singh) did everything right," Sitharaman told reporters in Pune.

She also linked Singh's act to Indian culture, saying every person in India does this in some form or the other. Sitharaman said the previous defence minister and his wife launched Navy ships as per rituals followed in their faith. "At that time in India, how many of us worried about superstition? Were we worried?" the minister said.

Sitharaman also justified Prime Minister Narendra Modi's remarks in a viral video, where he is seen taking a dig at those indulging in superstition. An old Modi speech, ridiculing "nimbu-mirchi" superstition, was widely shared on Twitter after the Rafale 'puja'.

In the video clip of Modis address at the inauguration of Delhi Metros Magenta line in August 2017, the Prime Minister is heard saying: "Apne car ke upar nimbu-mirchi aur pata nahi kya kya...Yeh log desh ko kya prerna denge? Aisee andh shraddha mein jeene wale log sarwajanik jiwan ka bahut ahit karte hain. (On their car, they place lemons, chilli and what not..How will such people inspire the country? People living with such blind beliefs cause lot of harm to public life)." Modi had spoken of a chief minister putting "nimbu and mirchi" on his new car, but not named the minister.

Twitterati had shared the clip of Modis speech alongside photographs of nimbu under the wheels of the Rafale fighter jet that Singh had "worshipped" in France. Sitharaman said Modi is also correct (in his views on belief and superstition) and added that the government has not "abandoned" science or scientific development.

Countering the Opposition's claim that the BJP is using abrogation of Article 370 to deflect attention from issues like lack of jobs or growth, Sitharaman said she is "worried" at such comments. She said the government is committed to reforms and it is a "responsive" government which is not yet done with its measures to prop-up economic growth.

If the auto industry feels that consumer demand has not been revived, and needs something specific, it can always talk to the government, she said. On the International Monetary Fund flagging a "more pronounced" slowdown in India, she said the government always takes the IMF's commentary seriously.

To a query on transmission of rates, Sitharaman said she will take up the issue during her meeting with chiefs of state-run banks on Monday. After the IRCTC IPO's success, the government will move ahead on all the other divestment proposals cleared by the Union cabinet, she said.

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