NEW DELHI: Air Marshal SBP Sinha (retd.), who headed the Indian negotiating team to procure 36 Rafale fighter jets from French manufacturer Dassault, on Friday clarified that “whatever communication” went on in the Ministry of Defence did not affect the negotiations.
He was referring to a news report on an internal note of the ministry, dated November 24, 2015, raising objections over “parallel parleys” by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) into the Rafale deal. Air Marshal Sinha told this newspaper that the report about the PMO’s alleged interference was a “selective leak”. “Why was the (then) defence minister’s response not shown with the same report?” he asked.
Air Marshal Sinha was heading the seven-member negotiating team which took the entire deal to fruition. “I was heading a team which had all the experts and had five joint secretaries of the Ministry of Defence. Whatever controversy is being raised did not affect us,” he claimed.
The note by then defence secretary G Mohan Kumar, quoted in the news report, said, “It is desirable that such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously.” The objection was recorded on a note prepared by S K Sharma, deputy secretary (Air-II). Sinha questioned the origin of this note, saying, “The defence secretary made the comment on the under secretary’s note. I don’t know what his locus standi was.”
As the news report kicked up a political storm, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, “A newspaper published a file noting written by (then) 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.”
Then defence minister Manohar Parrikar had penned his response at the end of the note saying “...PMO and French President’s office are monitoring the progress of the issue... Para 5 appears to be an overreaction.”