A political slugfest has erupted after a media report revealed that the Defence Ministry had strongly objected to “parallel negotiations” conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with France on the Rafale fighter jet deal.
The Ministry had reportedly advised the PMO not to entertain officers who are not part of the Indian Negotiating Team, from having “parallel parlays” on the multi-billion dollar fighter jet deal.
The Defence Secretary of India had written in the note that “it is desirable that such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously”.
Soon after the revelation, the opposition members from Congress, Trinamool Congress and Telugu Desam Party (TDP) trooped near the Speaker’s podium in Lok Sabha shouting slogans against the government.
Members were heard saying “Chowkidar chor hai” and were holding placards protesting against the defence deal.
Mallikarjun Kharge, the Congress party leader in the Lok Sabha, reiterating the party’s stand, demanded a Joint Parliamentary Committee (JPC) probe into the deal.
“We demand a joint parliamentary committee, everything will be revealed then, we don’t want any explanation now, have heard many explanations, from PM also,” he said.
TMC MP Saugata Roy accused that the “Modi-Shah duo was destroying the defence backbone of the country”.
Reacting to the uproar, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said by raising the Rafale row, the Congress was only “flogging a dead horse”.
The minister further said during the debate on Rafale on January 4 during the Winter Session, she had answered all the queries and controversies on the Rafale deal.
Defending the government, Sitharaman said the media report did not include the note from the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar saying that there was “nothing wrong and everything was on right track”.
“The routine queries on any matter from the PMO should not be taken as interference,” she said as she questioned what Sonia Gandhi-led National Advisory Council (NAC) was doing.
“Now, what do you call the NAC led by Sonia Gandhi’s interference in the earlier PMO. The NAC was virtually running the PMO,” Sitharaman lashed out at the Opposition.
The defence minister further said the Congress was trying to provoke the Army and Air Force against the government, terming it as “unfortunate and dangerous”.
Meanwhile, reacting to the media report, the then Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar on Friday said the dissent note that was given to the PMO had nothing to do with the pricing but was about sovereign guarantees and general terms and conditions, news agency ANI reported.
Earlier in the day, Congress President Rahul Gandhi attacked Prime Minister Narendra over the Rafale deal report.
Signed, sealed & now delivered for the whole country to see. Your lies are out in the open Modiji, the Defence Ministry clearly opposed your interference in the Rafale deal & you have single handedly undermined India’s position. #ChowkidarChorHai #PakdaGayaModi pic.twitter.com/8nGic1xH4V
— Congress (@INCIndia) February 8, 2019
The note accessed is a shot in the arm for the Congress which has has been accusing massive irregularities in the deal, alleging that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating procurement of 126 Rafale jets.
Accusing Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman of lying in the matter, Gandhi said the former French president Francois Hollande too has admitted that he was made to choose Anil Ambani by PM Modi himself.