KOCHI: Former Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar, who was in the thick of things when the Rafale deal was in the making, came out all guns blazing in support of the Narendra Modi Government and termed the recent reports on the files, some of them highlighting his negative comments regarding PMO and Defence Ministry working at cross purposes, concocted.
Special Correspondent Ajay Kanth caught up with him in Kochi late on Friday evening. Excerpts of the interview.
Q: You've said your note/comments were taken out of context. Can you explain?
A: We had certain divergent points of view when the discussions were on. Even other members of the Cabinet Committee expressed dissenting voices. In fact, it was Prime Minister Narendra Modi who brought the deal back to the table after it lay cold shouldered during the UPA Government. As the entire deal was between the two countries, parallel discussions were happening between France and the PMO. We raised our concern and insisted a final call on the deal should be made only after reaching a consensus among the members. Finally, we reached an agreement with all stakeholders to go ahead with the deal.
Q: On what grounds are you saying the Rafale deal was transparent?
A: The whole controversy related to the deal is unnecessary. The entire cost of the deal shot up due to valid reasons, mainly cost escalation and rupee depreciation. It was in 2007 that the Defence Acquisition Council headed by then Defence Minister A K Antony approved the Request for Proposal to buy 126 aircraft. But nothing concrete happened during the UPA regime.
It was the Modi Government which started renegotiating the deal. We decided to go for 148 aircrafts though the initial deal was for 36 aircraft in a fly-away status. The government will go for another deal for the remaining aircraft which will be built in India. The report that the decision to buy 36 aircrafts pushed the price of each fully fitted, combat-ready aircraft up by 41.42 per cent is completely baseless.
The Modi Government worked out the deal afresh and we've decided to buy 148 aircraft. The initial deal was for 36 for which the price has gone up due to additional design and development of 13 India Specific Enhancements (ISE).
Q: Are you categorically saying the positions taken by the PMO and Ministry of Defence did not contradict each other?
A: There were differences of opinion at every stage of discussion. It's natural for each member in the committee to come out with divergent views. In any defence deal of this magnitude, there will be contradictory views. The deal was finally struck after both the MoD and the PMO reached a consensus.
Q: The Defence Minister had noted you may resolve the issue in consultation with the Principal Secretary to PM. Was it resolved? How?
Everything is transparent in the entire deal. There were different levels of consultations. France was initiating direct discussion with the PMO. There is nothing wrong in that. The two countries can discuss many things at various levels. We had our reservations which we raised. The deal was struck after we all fully agreed to the terms and conditions. The differences were all resolved.
Q: Do you think the 2019 election outcome will be decided to some extent by the Rafale deal?
I have no comments on politics. But it's certain that Rahul Gandhi is coming out with false details on the deal. He is not supposed to make such rubbish statements and mislead the public. I believe he is making statements looking at the annual report of the Reliance Anil Dhirubhai Ambani Group (R-ADAG). A company's annual report is not a fact sheet to make statements on a government defence deal. The government has no agreement with R-ADAG on Rafale deal.
It was (French company) Dassault which directly entered into a deal with Ambani's company. As per defence offset policy, an arms supplier can directly select its partner.
Q. Are you feeling compelled to give a clean chit to the PMO? Why?
A: I am not with anyone. I did my job as defence secretary. As facts are being distorted, I have the right to say the truth.
Q: So, has the English daily, in its report on Friday, blown certain things out of proportion?
Yes, the reports on Rafale deal are being blown out of proportion for political gains. There is an agenda behind it.