The Congress on Monday asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi not to use space dedicated to martyrs for political attacks. Modi had made several remarks against the Opposition party while inaugurating the National War Memorial in New Delhi earlier in the day.

“The National War Memorial is a symbol of the sacrifices made by our country’s jawans,” spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala said. “Do not make it a political battlefield with your shameful behaviour and political speeches. You have already reduced the dignity of your post, now stop abusing political opponents on the land of the brave.”

In separate tweets, the Congress praised the government for the construction of the memorial, but said the party was against “petty politics” in national matters.

On Modi’s claim about Rafale aircraft during his speech, the Congress accused him of compromising with the national security to achieve the deal to buy the jets from France. “Modi helped his friend Anil Ambani, who was deep in debt, by neglecting the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited,” the Congress claimed.

The Congress also said that if Modi had looked at defence statistics before making “arrogant claims” about modernising equipment for the armed forces, he would have saved himself the ignominy of telling lies. “Because not only did the Modi government cut the defence expenditure in terms of GDP, but also reduced the budget for modernisation.”

National Conference leader Omar Abdullah gave credit to the government for building the memorial but said he was disappointed with “politician Modi for politicising the occasion by making a blatantly political speech”. “Today’s speech should have been made in a BJP [Bharatiya Janata Party] election rally, not at an event with serving armed service officers, veterans and families in the audience.”

Trinamool Congress MP Derek O’Brien likened Modi’s speech to “disrespecting the uniform”.

Several former servicemen also criticised Modi’s speech.

The 40-acre National War Memorial near India Gate pays homage to soldiers who died in the line of duty and commemorates those personnel who participated in and lost their lives in peace-keeping missions and counter-insurgency operations. The memorial complex includes a central obelisk, an eternal flame, and six bronze murals depicting famous battles fought by the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy.

During his speech at the inauguration, Modi said the memorial is proof that his administration converts visions into reality. He said his government’s “success in implementing the One Rank, One Pension scheme” was another such example.

The prime minister accused the previous Congress-led government of compromising the security of armed forces by not buying essential defence equipment. He said the people of India have seen a difference between a government guided by “India First” and a government guided by “Family First”.