Mumbai: Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar kicked up a storm with his allegation that some former Prime Ministers had "compromised" the country's "deep assets", triggering a demand by Congress that he give evidence or tender a public apology.
He, however, refrained from naming the former Prime Ministers.
Parrikar, a senior BJP leader, made the controversial remarks at an event in Mumbai on Thursday while making a reference to the Coast Guard operation involving a boat coming from Pakistan. He said he did not give details about the incident as the "source (of information) might be compromised".
"After all, you have to build deep assets. Deep assets are created over 20-30 years. Sadly, there were some Prime Ministers who compromised deep assets.
"I am not going to disclose names. Many people know," Parrikar said after releasing a special issue of the Hindi weekly Vivek, on national security.
Congress called the charge serious and demanded evidence from Parrikar to substantiate his claim or tender a public apology.
BJP, however, stood behind the minister, saying if he has said something it should be taken with "gravitas" and rejected the demand for his apology.
The charge levelled by Parrikar is serious and grave, Congress Spokesperson Randeep Surjewala said, adding that the party is sincerely hoping he knows what he is articulating and has the facts and evidence to substantiate his charges.
He said the minister should put all such facts and evidence in public domain immediately.
"We hope he would not follow the classical 'shoot and scoot' policy of BJP of levelling a charge and denying it thereafter by taking a U-turn. For you cannot play to the issue of national security in a political fashion," he added.
Surjewala wanted to kinow what assets were compromised and whether they were strategic assets or intelligence assets. He said its nature must be stated by the Defence Minister.
Another Congress leader Manish Tewari said he cannot tar the former Prime Ministers irrespective of whichever party they belong to with a "black brush"
"...He should come out with the evidence or he should take his statement back and publicly apologise," he said.
Senior Congress leader P C Chacko demanded that the Minister come out "openly" to substantiate his allegations and should be more "straight-forward" if there has been some lapses as such statements could pose "unnecessary complications".
Reacting to the Congress criticism of the minister, BJP spokesperson GVL Narasimha Rao said the Defence Minister is an extremely responsible leader and his statement certainly has a lot of context and one should wait for further details.
"But I think it is a known fact that many Congress Prime Ministers have compromised on national security," he alleged.
Another BJP spokesperson Nalin Kohli said the minister speaks in the interest of India and there would be some "gravitas" or reason behind it.