Rafale expose: Did Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman mislead parliament with her reply?

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Last night we reported how Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had sensationally refused to divulge details surrounding the controversial Rafale deal citing a ‘security agreement’ with France, signed in ‘2008.’

Nirmala Sitharaman

In her written reply to Congress MP Rajeev Gowda in the parliament, Sitharaman had said, “As per ‘Article-10’ of the Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) between Government of India and Government of France on the purchase of Rafale aircraft, the protection of the classified information and material exchanged under IGA is governed by the provisions of the Security Agreement signed between the two nations in 2008.”

Congress leader and a former union minister in the UPA government, Manish Tewari, took to Twitter to remind her that India had signed three key agreements in 2008 with France and none included a ‘security agreement’ as claimed by Sitharaman.

He wrote, ” India & France signed 3 Agreements in 2008 1.Civil Nuclear Cooperation Agreement 2.Social Security (Not Security) Agreement 3.PSLV use Agreement. What is Security Agreement of 2008 ? When was it signed? Clauses & Terms”

Tewari may just be right because there’s absolutely no trace of any agreement between India and France restricting the former from divulging information on the Rafale deal. All Gowda had asked in his question to Sitharaman was; “Whether Dassault (the French aircraft manufacturer) was penalised for refusing to fulfil its contractual obligations under the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft Request (MMRCA) deal; if so, the details thereof and if not, the reasons therefore.”

What has given rise to suspicion is the outright refusal by Sitharaman to answer what appeared to be a seemingly innocuous question by Gowda. Sitharaman’s reluctance may have emanated from the cloud of suspicion on the Rafale deal, as exposed by Janta Ka Reporter in its two-part series. (Read part 1 and two of that expose here).

In order to find a trace of evidence to support Sitharaman’s claims, we looked at the key documents archived by the governments of India and France on their respective public platforms and any media coverage on them.

A key document published by the government of France in 2013 titled France and Security In The Asia Pacific dwells on the country’s strategic ties with India while also referring to military partnerships between the two countries.

On its military partnership, the document makes absolutely no mention of any security arrangement barring India from disclosing the details on the Rafale deal as claimed by Sitharaman in the parliament. The document says, “France has developed a major strategic partnership with India based on common values and interests, organized around a top-level dialogue, a particularly close military cooperation (annual navy (Varuna), air (Garuda), and army (Shakti) drills), and an exceptional armaments cooperation.”

Even documents archived on the Indian ministry of external affairs’ website makes no references to any security agreement between India and France that may stop the Indian government from revealing details surrounding the Rafale deal signed under the Narendra Modi government.

This government of India website has archived the list (See below) of MoUs and agreements signed between India and France during the then Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s visit to France. None appears to include any agreement preventing India from disclosing details on the Rafale deal.

● Agreement on defence cooperation.
● Statement of Intent on Cooperation between the Ministry of
Commerce and Industry and the Ministry of Economy, Finance
and Industry on cooperation between enterprises.
● MoU on tourism cooperation.
● Declaration by India and France on the development of
nuclear energy for peaceful purposes.
● MoU between India’s Bureau of Energy Efficiency and
Agence de l’ Environnement et de la Maîtrise de l’ Energie.
● Agreement between Indian Council for Cultural Relations and
Sciences Po, Paris.
● Agreement between ANTRIX Corporation and EADS ASTRIUM
relating to W2M satellite.
● MoU between Indian Institute of Management, Ahmedabad,
and ESSEC Business School Paris (École Supérieure des
Sciences Économiques et Commerciales).
● Airbus purchase contract between Indian Airlines and Airbus.

On Tuesday, three veteran Congress leaders, Ghulam Nabi Azad, Mallikarjun Kharge, Randeep Singh Surjewala and Rajeev Gowda issued a joint statement accusing Sitharam of misleading the parliament. The statement read, ”

Why is Defence Minister misleading the Parliament (written reply dated 5th February, 2018 – Annexure A-3) by claiming that she has no knowledge of the ‘offset contract’ having been awarded by Rafale-Dassault Aviation to ‘Reliance Defence’, although French Defence Minister met up our Defence Minister on 27th October, 2017 in India and proceeded to inaugurate the ‘Dassault Reliance Aerospace’ Manufacturing Facility in Mihan, Nagpur along with Union Cabinet Minister, Shri Nitin Gadkari and Maharashtra CM, Shri Devendra Fadnavis? Is it also not correct that Reliance Company’s website ‘R.Infra’ reflects that they are undertaking offset obligations worth 30,000 crore with Dassault Aviation for 36 Rafale Aircrafts? (Copy of this document from company’s website is attached as Annexure A-4). Why is Modi government then weaving this web of deception by claiming ignorance?”

It seems Sitharaman is referring to the Agreement for the Protection of Classified Information and Security that was signed between France and India during the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to India in January 2008. Although the terms and conditions of this agreement is not available on public domain, the agreement was restricted to the transfer of defence technology and not the pricing of Rafale jets. Also, in such agreement, the disclosure is prohibition applies only for unauthorised disclosures. Whats the Congress MP had asked in the parliament on Monday was in the national interest and this can’t be termed as unauthorised disclosure even though Gowda’s question was pertaining to the pricing of the jets. He wasn’t asking to know the details on the technology of Rafale deals, that anyway is not a part of the contract signed by the present’s government. It was the UPA that had secured a deal for 136 Rafale jets with the free transfer of technology clause.

To understand what Agreement for the Protection of Classified Information and Security means can be understood from what the Spanish defence minister, Pedro Moremes, said after signing the same agreement with India in March 2015. Speaking to journalists Moremes had had said that the agreement on classified information would help in the’ ‘protection of the technology from leaks and misuse of the information.’

“We will be glad to protect such information. It is very expensive to develop such high technology capability and any leaks will help those who have not spent time, money or technological research and development. This is important to protect any such risks,” the Spanish minister had said.

“Even our companies will have to implement any measures that are established in this agreement. It is important to know that it is also for the benefit of the companies to protect their information. Hence, we are ready to share sovereignty information with India.. The agreement will cover the army, air force, navy, cyber space and outer space where we generally face threats,” he had added.

 

Since there doesn’t appear to be any evidence to support Sitharaman’s claims, the opposition will no doubt want to corner her and ask if she misled the parliament with her replies on what’s being billed as the Rafale scam.

 

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