Sitharaman rubbishes reports on Rafale, says PMO didn’t interfere

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Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday dismissed the media report on the Rafale jet deal as “flogging a dead horse” and accused the opposition of playing into the hands of multinational companies and vested interests.

Sitharaman’s suo motu statement came in Lok Sabha in the wake of protests by Congress and other opposition over the report which claimed that the Defence Ministry had protested to the PMO the mechanism being adopted for the Rafale deal.

“They are flogging a dead horse. Periodical enquiries by the PMO cannot be construed as interference,” the minister said during the Zero Hour.

The Defence Minister charged the opposition with playing into the hands of multinational companies and vested interests and not working in the interests of the Indian Air Force.

Referring to the report, which claimed that the then Defence Secretary had objected to the PMO allegedly conducting price negotiations with the French company, Sitharaman said the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had replied to the letter asking the official to remain “calm” as everything was “alright”.

Sitharaman also alleged that the then Chairperson of the National Advisory Council Sonia Gandhi used to run the PMO regularly during the UPA regime.

“Was that not interference?,” she asked.

Earlier, the Hindu in its exclusive report said the Defence Ministry expressed its strong reservations to the “parallel negotiations” conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office with France on the multi-billion dollar Rafale fighet jet deal. The damning note provides fresh ammo to the opposition Congress which has relentlessly attacked the government, accusing PM Narendra Modi of signing an overpriced deal for 36 Rafale jets to help industrialist Anil Ambani.

The note – dated November 24, 2015 – that was reportedly brought to the attention of then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar said the position taken by the PMO was “contradictory to the stand taken by Defence Ministry and the negotiating team.” The strongly-worded note, prepared by then Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar, further states that “it is desirable that such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously.”

The note also says “we may advise PMO that any Officers who are not part of Indian Negotiating Team may refrain from having parallel parlays [parleys] with the officers of French Government”. It further says that “in case the PMO is not confident about the outcome of negotiations being carried out by the MoD, a revised modality of negotiations to be led by PMO at appropriate level may be adopted in the case.” 

But later Sitharaman rubbished the claims by the paper.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly targeted PM Modi over claims about the defence ministry’s objections to the Rs 36,000-crore Rafale deal.

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