The Hindu report disclosed that then Defence Secretary had objected to parallel negotiations by PMO with France; Govt rubbishes claims

A fresh media disclosure in the Rafale fighter jet deal rocked the Modi Government on Friday and created a massive uproar in Parliament even as Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman accused the Opposition of “playing in the hands of multinationals and vested interests” and termed the media report one-sided.

A report in The Hindu appearing on Friday disclosed then Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar had objected to a parallel negotiations by the Prime Minister’s office in the Rafale deal diluting status of “Indian Negotiating team”. The report said then Defence Secretary had written to then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar about the alleged interference by the PMO.

A day after Prime Minister Narendra Modi accused the Congress of damaging national security and not wanting “a strong Indian Air Force”, the Opposition led by the Congress and the Trinamool Congress launched a frontal attack on the Modi Government in the Lok Sabha.

Defence Minister Sitharaman later dismissed the media report on the deal as “flogging a dead horse” and slammed the Opposition for playing into the hands of vested interests of multinationals. “The Rafale issue is done with,” she said in a suo motu statement amid the Opposition uproar over the Rafale matter. Sitharaman said the media report was one sided and did not publish Parrikar’s reply on the said noting.

The proceedings of the Lok Sabha was adjourned for nearly 50 minutes after the entire Opposition trooped into the Well of the House raising slogans on the Rafale jet deal as soon as the House met.

Members from Congress, Left, Trinamool Congress and TDP rushed into the Well of the House holding placards of a newspaper clipping which claimed the Defence Ministry had protested to the PMO the mechanism being adopted for the Rafale deal.

Opposition members were heard shouting slogans demanding resignation of Modi on the issue. They also noted that Defence Minister was not present in the House.

As the House resumed proceedings after the adjournment, Saugata Roy (TMC) alleged that parallel negotiations were on when the Defence Ministry’s negotiating committee was handling the matter. He also alleged that “notorious” National Security Adviser Ajit Doval was conducting parallel negotiations in Paris, undermining the bargaining power of the Government.

“It concerns national security...(Prime Minister Narendra) Modi is destroying the defence of the country and undermining negotiations...Why PMO interfered ?,” he charged.

Intervening in the matter during zero hour, Speaker Sumitra Mahajan said a newspaper will write anything and “you are raising the issue”. Sticking to the demand for constitution of Joint Parliamentary Committee, Leader of Congress in the Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge dubbed the Centre as “anti-national.”

“You (Government) are anti-national. You indulged in stealing but are instead blaming us...You are buying only 26 jets as against 126,” Kharge said.

“That is why you need to constitute JPC as the reality will come out. All files would come to JPC. We do not want any other explanation...We do not want to listen to anything,” he said.

On this, the Speaker said discussion has already been conducted on the matter.

Amid the shouting and sloganeering, Sitharaman entered the House and made a suo motu statement.

“They are flogging a dead horse. Periodical enquiries by the PMO cannot be construed as interference,” she said during the Zero Hour.

Referring to the report, Sitharaman said then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had replied to the letter asking the official to remain “calm” as everything was “alright”.

Parrikar’s handwritten remarks at the bottom of the note said “it appears that PMO and French President’s Office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting(between Modi and French President Francois Hollande in April 2015)”.

Parrikar further noted that, “Para 5, which referred to “parallel discussions” by the PMO, “appears to be an over-reaction”, the minister wrote, adding Defence Secretary may resolve the matter in consultation with Principal Secretary to PM.”

Later talking to media persons, Sitharaman criticised the news report for raising issues “selectively” and ignoring the then minister’s reply to file noting of officials.

“Keeping in mind the ethics of journalism, isn’t it the responsibility of the newspaper to publish response of Manohar Parrikar (then Defence Minister). Is it right to selectively raise issues to suit one’s story? Picking this selective kind of noting and building an issue falsely on it is completely called out today,” she said.

Sitharaman also alleged that the then Chairperson of the National Advisory Council Sonia Gandhi used to run the PMO regularly during the UPA regime. “Was that not interference?,” she asked.

Rajya Sabha was adjourned for the day after Congress leader Gulam Nabi Azad raised the same issue and wanted a discussion on it.

Meanwhile, former Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar who’s name appeared in the newspaper that quoted the Defence Ministry’s noting clarified that dissent note had nothing to do with the price of the Rafale jets. “It was about sovereign guarantees and general terms and conditions “, Kumar was quoted as saying by the news agency ANI.

Air Marshal SBP Sinha (Retd), who was leading the Indian negotiating team for the Rafale deal, rejected the charge that the PMO was holding parallel negotiations, a view endorsed by Mohan Kumar during whose tenure the Rafale deal was signed. The comments of Sinha and Kumar were sought by PTI after the controversy over the MoD note broke out.

Kumar said the matter refers to sovereign guarantee and not the price. There were several unsettled issues that were being sorted out and sovereign guarantee was one of it, he said, adding,” All the price negotiations were conducted by the (negotiating) committee.”