At a ceremony in Merignac (France) on Tuesday, 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.
Reacting to the development, Congress leader Rashid Alvi said, "This is a government of dramatics. You are going to France and performing Puja, wasn't the Rafale jet coming to India? You are going to a foreign country and doing all this drama."
After his reported comments terming Singh's Shastra Puja as "tamasha" (theatrics) drew sharp responses, Congress leader Mallikarjuna Kharge said he was not referring to the Puja but was questioning as to why politicians were getting involved in Rafale delivery and other technical matters.
"I only said that in Rafale and other technical matters, it is the Air Force and Army that deal with it and why are politicians getting involved," he told PTI.
Kharge said he was not criticising Shastra Puja, and his point was that the aircraft will still take at least 6-8 months to come to India and therefore "why should they do this (Puja) there, they can do it when it comes here".
However, reacting sharply to Kharge's reported comments, disgruntled Congress leader Sanjay Nirupam said Shastra Puja cannot be called a "tamasha" as it is a thousands of years old tradition of this country.
"I know Mallikarjuna Kharge ji is an atheist. He doesn't believe in praying, we know, but not everyone in the Congress like him is an atheist," he told PTI.
"In the entire country, 1 per cent people are atheists but all the others believe in praying and therefore those who are atheist should not impose their beliefs on the party and society," Nirupam said.
He asserted that he was supporting Shastra Puja and not the BJP as in his opinion Indian traditions and cultural heritage are "far bigger than any party or individual".
Congress leader Udit Raj, tweeted, "The Rafale jet belongs to France. It was protected by lemon-coconut while being made part of the Air Force. What would the world be thinking? Due to this superstition, such fighter aircraft have to be bought from outside. The day this superstition ends, we will make the jet ourselves."
Congress spokesperson Sandeep Dikshit said the problem is with the "politicisation" of the event by the Defence Minister and the BJP.
He said there was no problem with performing of rituals, but it is the manner in which the event was politicised with the defence minister for the first time receiving armaments himself instead of the defence forces. "That is the issue."
Alvi said the question is whether the Modi government and the BJP consider former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee its leader or not.
"If it does, then (they should remember) he was the Prime Minister for six years, but did he do any such drama going to France?" Alvi told PTI.
He hit out at the government for "ignoring" the real problems of the country such as rising unemployment. "You are not talking about the economy of the country, it is coming down day by day."
At an AICC briefing, Congress spokesperson Pawan Khera said the issue around Rafale is not that of the capability of the aircraft, but that of the delay caused by the BJP government in procuring them after cancelling the original UPA deal.
He said Congress leaders have not criticised the Rafale aircraft, but have sought answers on why this government caused delay in producing the aircraft.
"Our leaders have not criticised. I heard them. They have only questioned on issue of delay. Something which was decided by the UPA, would have been part of our fleet much earlier. You derailed that. Now you have gone to receive it without answering any questions which is owed to every single taxpayer of this country, to every citizen of India. You owe (them) these answers," he said.
Khera said Rafale is one of the best aircraft and "we knew it, therefore, we pushed for it. We wanted the deal to be culminated as soon as possible, but it was the Modi government which came and derailed it. As a result, we do not have Rafale in our country."
He said whenever one is trying to make any defence acquisition, "the three priorities are - the best, the cheapest and the fastest."
"So, instead of addressing these questions, everything else is irrelevant, immaterial. If they had stuck to the schedule, as decided and determined by the UPA-II government, we would already have Rafale," Khera said.
"We need to focus on these questions - why did you derail that, why did you reduce the number, why did you delay the procedure, why did you subvert the procedure? These are the questions that are far more serious," he said.