Congress president Rahul Gandhi said the prime minister got a woman to defend him in Parliament as he couldn't do so himself, a remark that appeared to trigger a sharp retort from Narendra Modi who accused the opposition of insulting Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman.
Calling Modi a prime minister who claimed to have a broad chest, Rahul said, the prime minister had "run away" from debate in Parliament on the defence deal.
The watchman with a 56-inch chest ran away and told a woman, Nirmala Sitharaman ji, defend me. I won't be able to defend myself, defend me, he said at a farmers' rally in Jaipur.
For two and a half hours, the woman could not defend him. I had asked a straight question answer yes or no but she couldn't answer, the Congress chief said, using the word mahila' for a woman in his speech in Hindi.
Later in the address, he accused the prime minister again of running away from the debate, but this time did not refer to the defence minister in the same manner.
In his public meeting a few hours later in Agra, Modi accused Congress leaders of insulting the country's women.
He said Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had floored the Opposition in the Lok Sabha by coming up with "fact after fact" on the Rafale deal.
"They are bent upon insulting a woman defence minister," he said, without naming Rahul.
"This is not an insult to a woman, but an insult to entire India's women power, for which these irresponsible leaders will have to pay the price," Modi added.