The Centre’s Narendra Modi government on Friday desperately defended itself after an internal note by the defence ministry revealed how the PMO was accused of carrying out parallel negotiations with the French government on the Rafale deal.
Speaking in the parliament, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman lashed out at the Congress and the newspaper that had published the note issued by a deputy secretary level officer in the defence ministry.
She said, “If they are really concerned about the issue and they’ve raised the issue based on a newspaper report, I like to point out a few things…If the newspaper wanted to bring the truth out, It was incumbent on the newspaper, the Hindu to put the reply of the then Raksha Mantri Shri Parrikar on record too in its story but they omitted it.”
This was after Congress President Rahul Gandhi tore into Prime Minister Narendra Modi for his personal involvement in the Rafale deal, reiterating his allegations that the latter had ‘stolen Rs 30,000 crore’ of public money. Gandhi had said, “I want to speak to youngsters of this nation and I want to speak to every single member of the armed forces of this nation. This is about your future. You defend us, you protect us, you fight for us, you die for us. Here, it’s absolutely clear that the prime minister of this nation has stolen Rs 30,000 crore of your money.”
A report by The Hindu newspaper had said that Deputy Secretary SK Sharma in the ministry of defence had sensationally held Modi responsible for weakening the negotiatiable position of the Ministry of Defence and the Indian Negotiating Team. The letter had read,”It is, therefore, clear that such parallel discussions by the PMO has weakened the negotiating position of the MoD and the Indian Negotiating Team.” It went on to write that ‘we may advise PMO that any Officers who are not part of Indian Negotiating Team may refrain from having parallel parlays with the officers of the French government. In case the PMO is not confident about the outcome of negotiations being carried out by the MoD, a revised modalities of negotiations to be led by PMO at appropriate level may be adopted in the case.”
Sitharaman on Friday said that the newspaper had not published the reply of the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. Replying on the same page, Parrikar had written that “It appears that the PMO and the French President’s office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting.” He went on to add that the concerns expressed in paragraph 5 of the note of then defence secretary, G Mohan Kumar, “appears to be an over-reaction”, the minister wrote, adding “Defence Secretary may resolve the matter in consultation with Principal Secretary to PM.”
The response by Parrikar did not prove anything in defence of the Modi government as claimed by Sitharaman. If anything, it goes on to further prove that Modi indeed was carrying out parallel negotiations that had caused quite a disquiet in the defence ministry.
Soon after Sitharaman made a desperate clarification in the parliament, the Congress took to Twitter to attack her. It said, “Nirmala ji, stop pretending like you don’t know that negotiating directly with the French govt is not ‘supervision”, but interference which violates DAC guidelines as illustrated by the note written by your own ministry.”
The discovery of the defence secretary’s note on Friday vindicates the articles by Janta Ka Reporter which had first exposed the irregularities in the Rafale deal in 2017. In our expose, authored by Ravi Nair in November 2017, we had highlighted how even the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had expressed his ignorance about the deal being struck by Modi with the French government. It was allegedly Modi’s intervention that Anil Ambani’s 10 day old company had replaced the government-owned HAL to be the Indian offset partner of Dassault Aviation.