Note on PMO interference in Rafale deal 'not doctored', says The Hindu; claims two versions differ on dates

  • The Hindu on Monday defended its report on the Rafale deal, which had claimed that the defence ministry in 2015 had objected to

  • The newspaper had been accused of

  • The paper's reader's editor AS Panneerselvan, in his column on Monday, clarified that the version of the note published by the paper on 8 February and the one accessed by ANI were, in fact, from different dates

The Hindu on Monday defended its report on the Rafale deal, which had claimed that the defence ministry in 2015 had objected to "parallel discussions" held by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) during the negotiations over the deal for 36 fighter jets with France. The newspaper had been accused of "doctoring" a letter written by former defence secretary SK Sharma and leaving out the response of the then-defence minister Manohar Parrikar.

The paper's reader's editor AS Panneerselvan, in his column on Monday, clarified that the version of the note published by the paper on 8 February and the one accessed by ANI were, in fact, from different dates.

"A close look at the note published by N Ram (the author), as part of his investigation, reveals that the document was from an earlier date. In that, officials of the Defence Ministry draw the attention of the Defence Minister to the fact that there was a parallel negotiation being led by the Prime Minister’s Office. The page has only the observation of the officials," he said.

 Note on PMO interference in Rafale deal not doctored, says The Hindu; claims two versions differ on dates

The version released by ANI (left) and the version published by The Hindu (right)

Panneerselvan further noted that there was "no numbering or sequencing of opinions" on the version of the letter published by The Hindu, adding that in the version released by the government through ANI, "every opinion is numbered". "Mr. Parrikar’s opinion is clearly marked 13, which means it was a subsequent document. The numberings, which are quite conspicuous in the ANI document, prove that The Hindu published both documents without any doctoring," he said.

A report published by The Hindu on 8 February escalated the Rafale controversy after it claimed that the defence ministry in 2015 had objected to "parallel discussions" held by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) during the negotiations over the deal for 36 fighter jets with France.

A letter written by then-defence deputy secretary (Air II) SK Sharma objecting to parallel discussions was published in the report. In the portion of the note published, Sharma's letter said that parallel discussions had "weakened the negotiating position of Ministry of Defence and the Indian Negotiating Team."

However, the Centre, led by Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, had denounced the report claiming that only a part of the note had been published and that the response of former defence minister had been left out. Parrikar had written a response dismissing Sharma's concerns and called it an "overreaction". Reportedly, he also called for further consultations to clarify points.

Sitharaman had said, "A newspaper published a file noting written by the defence secretary. If a newspaper publishes a noting, then the ethics of journalism will demand that the newspaper publishes the then-defence minister’s reply as well. Such selective noting and building an issue out of this is completely uncalled for."

The report was quoted by Congress president Rahul Gandhi at a press conference on 8 February, as he launched a renewed attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. "It is an open-and-shut case," declared the Congress chief, who has been alleging that the pricing of the fighter plane, under the deal for procuring 36 aircraft from French company Dassault Aviation, was changed at the behest Modi.

Updated Date: Feb 18, 2019 10:42:24 IST