NEW DELHI: A major political storm erupted on Friday after the Congress latched on to a media report alleging that the Defence Ministry had protested against “parallel negotiations” being conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office with the French on the Rafale jet deal. The media report cited a note dated November 24, 2015 in which the then Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar wrote to former Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar saying it was “desirable that such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously.”
As the issue rocked Parliament, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman hit back saying the Congress was “flogging a dead horse. Periodical inquiries by the PMO cannot be construed as interference.” She accused the newspaper of “not carrying the Defence Minister’s reply” to the note. “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,” she said.
Air Marshal S B P Sinha (Retd), who headed the negotiating team, supported Sitharaman and denied any PMO interference. “It is a selective leak, why was the Defence Minister’s response not shown with the same report,” he asked.Earlier, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said “the report makes the Supreme Court judgment on Rafale questionable since information was withheld from the court.” He reiterated the “chowkidar chor hai” jibe at Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari countered Sitharaman saying Parrikar had chosen to stay away from the issue knowing the PMO had bypassed the defence ministry.The BJP said “vain attempts have been made for months to fabricate a scam in the Rafale aircraft deal.”
Parrikar’s file noting puts it in perspective
“It appears that PMO and French President’s Office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting. Para 5 appears to be an over reaction. Def Sec may resolve issue/matter in consultation with Pr sec to PM.” This was what the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar wrote in the file in response to a defence ministry note flagging parallel talks by PMO and MoD on the Rafale deal could hurt the negotiations. Curiously, Parikkar’s file noting was missing in a media report on parallel negotiations. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman pounced on it to attack the daily of selective reportage