New Delhi: The controversy surrounding the Rafale deal picked up again on Friday with a news report claiming that the Ministry of Defence had raised objections to “parallel negotiations” by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO).
While the Opposition attacked the Centre, the latter has categorically dismissed the report, saying that it was worrisome how the whole matter was being presented selectively which was ultimately creating false impressions in the reader’s mind.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharam, speaking to ANI, said whatever had been leaked so far was being distorted as only half-truths had been published. She asserted that she suspected some kind of corporate warfare in the Rafale matter and said it looked like people were levelling false allegations for their own sake.
On the alleged interference of the PMO, she cross-questioned the Congress asking what was the NAC doing under Sonia Gandhi. She said, “What was the NAC? National Advisory Council under Shrimati Sonia Gandhi. It was not a Constitutional body. It was remote controlling the PMO. Wasn’t that interference?”
Clarifying, she said, “If the PMO pursues a matter saying what is the progress, how far is it happening? Is it happening here? Is it happening in France? Are you all moving forward? That cannot be construed as interference at all.”
Dismissing the news report as “flogging a dead horse”, she accused the Opposition of playing into the hands of multinational companies and vested interests. “They are flogging a dead horse. Periodic enquiries by the PMO cannot be construed as interference,” the minister said.
The Congress had attacked the Narendra Modi-led government alleging the PMO “almost behaved like a middleman” by having “parallel negotiations” with the French government on the Rafale fighter jet deal. Extending support to the Congress on the fighter jet deal, Trinamool Congress (TMC) supremo and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee called PM Modi “Maddy babu”, who had transformed from a “chaiwala (tea-seller) to Rafalewala.”
She also termed the Rafale deal one of the biggest scams of the country. Stating that she agreed with the Congress’ views, Banerjee added, “I do not know how much money changed hands or what had happened. But certainly, there must be something behind the curtains. Rafale deal is a big scam and I fully support the Congress’ views on it because they have detailed papers with them.”
The Rafale controversy made headlines after a report by The Hindu on Friday claimed that the MoD raised strong objections to “parallel negotiations” by the PMO with the French side.
Chairman of the group, N Ram said, “The story is complete in itself because we have not dealt with Manohar Parrikar’s role in this and that needs investigation.”
The report cited a Defence Ministry note dated November 24, 2015, that was reportedly brought to the attention of then Defence Minister Parrikar and stated that parallel discussions by the PMO had “weakened the negotiating position of MoD and Indian Negotiating Team.”
Parrikar had said, “It appears PMO and French President office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting. Para 5 appears to be an over-reaction. Defence Secretary (G Mohan Kumar) may resolve the matter in consultation with the principal secretary to PM.”
Meanwhile, Kumar, who was the defence secretary then said the MoD’s dissent note on Rafale negotiations had nothing to do with price. It was about sovereign guarantees and general terms and conditions, he added.
Reacting to the fracas, Air Marshal SBP Sinha, who headed the Indian negotiating team, has called it “an attempt to malign the negotiation that happened for the procurement of the 36 Rafale jets”.
Sinha said the note was an internal matter and had nothing to do with the Indian negotiation team that he headed. “It has been initiated by SK Sharma, who was not part of the Indian negotiation team. On whose behest he initiated this note?” added Sinha.