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The Hindu report on Rafale deal puts PMO in spot; Congress claims corruption as Centre slams 'selective reporting'

Fresh controversy broke over the Rafale deal on Friday after a media report claimed that the defence ministry in 2015 objected to "parallel discussions" held by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) during the negotiations between India and France.

The report, published by The Hindu, was first quoted by Congress president Rahul Gandhi at a press conference, 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.

Reading the part of the a note dated 24 November, 2015, published in the report, Rahul said, "It is crystal clear that the ministry itself has said, and I will read it to you, 'It is therefore clear that the parallel discussions by the PMO has weakened the negotiation of the MoD and the Indian Negotiating Team. We may advise PMO that any officers who are not part of the Negotiation Team may refrain from having parallel parleys with the officer of the French government.'"

The Congress president also reiterated his demand for a joint parliamentary committee to probe the Rafale deal. "Modi robbed Indian Air Force's Rs 30,000 crore and gave it to his friend Anil Ambani. We have been raising this for a year. Now, a report has come where defence ministry officials say that the prime minister was holding parallel negotiations with France government," Rahul said.

 The Hindu report on Rafale deal puts PMO in spot; Congress claims corruption as Centre slams selective reporting

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Congress president Rahul Gandhi.

"The prime minister should explain to the armed forces, the Indian Air Force, why he is interfering with the negotiations? It is a corporate warfare and the prime minister is representing Anil Ambani."

He also claimed that the Supreme Court judgment on Rafale issue had become questionable, because "information was withheld by the government." Rahul has been alleging that the pricing of the fighter jet, under the deal for procuring 36 aircraft from French company Dassault, was Modi.

Rafale row rocks Lok Sabha

Immediately after the Lok Sabha convened at noon, members from Congress, Trinamool Congress (TMC) and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) jumped in the Well shouting slogans and showing placards referring to the report.

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.

The defence minister charged the Opposition with playing into the the hands of multinational companies and vested interests and not working in the interests of the Indian Air Force.

She claimed that the report, which carried a part of a note duly signed by written by then defence deputy secretary (Air-II) SK Sharma, failed to publish Parrikar's response. "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," Sitharaman said.

"Then defence minister Manohar Parrikar ji replied to that Ministry of Defence note saying, 'Remain calm, nothing to worry, everything is going alright.' Now, what do you call the National Advisory Council, led by Sonia Gandhi's interference in earlier PMO? What was that," the defence minister asked in the Lok Sabha. "Such selective noting and building an issue out of this is completely uncalled for."

The 'full' version of letter

According to a document accessed by ANI, the media report had given half picture of the full story as it did not highlight the file noting of Parrikar, who had dismissed concerns raised by the defence secretary and said that the fear was an “over reaction.” He also called for further consultations to clarify any points.

Parrikar wrote at the end: “It appears that 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 overreaction." The fifth paragraph contained the part about PMO's interference in the talks.

Parrikar further tasked then defence secretary G Mohan Kumar to resolve the matter in consultation with principal secretary to the prime minister.

The letter with Manohar Parrikar's response vs the part of letter carried by the media report.

The letter with Manohar Parrikar's response vs the part of letter carried by the media report.

Speaking on the dissent note, DMK leader MK Stalin said, "Modi has come under Supreme Court's contempt. In its sealed envelope to Supreme Court, Centre never mentioned PMO's negotiations. Never ever in independent India, a prime minister was caught in such serious allegations."

Meanwhile, Air Marshal SBP Sinha, who headed Rafale negotiations from the Indian side, said, "It was very surprising for me to know that in the article printed today a note within MoD has been used to malign this procurement by concealing facts, the remarks of the defence minister are not there.

"The note has nothing to do with Indian team's negotiation on Rafale procurement as this note wasn't initiated by Indian negotiating team. It has been initiated by SK Sharma, who was not part of Indian negotiation team. On whose behest he initiated this note?" Speaking to CNN-News18, he said, "I say with great assurance and guarantee that there was no interference from Prime Minister’s office with the Indian negotiating team."

G Mohan Kumar said that the defence ministry had given a dissent note to the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) over sovereign guarantee aspect of the negotiations in deal, but it had nothing to do with pricing issue. "The context is there in the newspaper. Whatever has been brought out (in the newspaper), it has nothing to do with pricing. Negotiations are not just for pricing but other things also. It was about sovereign guarantees and general terms and conditions,” he told ANI. Kumar, was the defence secretary from 2015 to 2017.

With inputs from agencies

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Updated Date: Feb 08, 2019 16:59:04 IST