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 moto 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.
According to The Hindu, the Ministry of Defence in 2015 objected to “parallel negotiations” conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office with France when the two countries were negotiating on the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal. The Hindu accessed a Defence Ministry note dated November 24, 2015, which reveals that the ministry “protested that the position taken by the PMO was ‘contradictory to the stand taken by MoD and the negotiating team'”.
The report says that then Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar had said that “it is desirable that such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously”. The note was prepared by Deputy Secretary (Air-II) SK Sharma, and endorsed by the ministry’s joint secretary and acquisition manager (air) and the director general (acquisition).
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has repeatedly targeted PM Modi over the claims about the defence ministry’s objection to the Rafale deal. “Congress President @RahulGandhi had a simple question for you in Parliament Modiji, you chickened out and didn’t answer, did the defence ministry oppose your Rafale deal? Looks like we have the answer now… ,” the Congress tweeted on Friday, citing The Hindu report.
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.
(Inputs from PTI)