The controversial Rafale fighter jet deal with France witnessed fresh round of allegations and counter allegations between the government and the Congress on Friday following a report in a newspaper which claimed that the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) was involved in parallel negotiations.
The newspaper report gave the Congress a fresh opportunity to target the Modi government. Congress president Rahul Gandhi stepped up his attack on PM Modi demanding answers to questions raised in the media report, saying it is now 'crystal clear' that the 'watchman' is the 'thief', an apparent reference to Modi’s alleged cronyism in the Rafale deal. The issue also rocked the Lok Sabha forcing Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman's to make a statement.
Sitharaman said that the Congress was 'flogging a dead horse' and alleged that the opposition was playing into the hands of multinational companies and vested interests.
The 'Internal Note'
'The Hindu' newspaper published an internal note of the Ministry of Defence(MoD) dated November 24, 2015. "It is, therefore clear that such parallel discussions by the PMO has weakened the negotiationg posituin of MoD and Indian Negotiating Team," the report quoted para 5 of the note, as stating.
However, the newspaper report didn't mention the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's observation on the said internal note. "It appears PMO and French President office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting. Para 5 appears to be an over reaction," Parrikar had said in his response.
ANI accesses the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s reply to MoD dissent note on #Rafale negotiations."It appears PMO and French President office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting. Para 5 appears to be an over reaction" pic.twitter.com/3dbGB9xF4Z— ANI (@ANI) February 8, 2019
Official who led Rafale negotiation rubbishes newspaper report
Air Marshal SBP Sinha (retired), who was leading the Indian negotiating team for Rafale fighter jet purchase rejected the charge that the PMO had held parallel negotiations.
Former Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar also said it was "absolutely wrong" to say that the PMO was conducting a parallel negotiation, as alleged in a media report to which the Congress and other opposition leaders have latched on to attack the Modi government over the Rafale deal.
"There was no parallel negotiation and every word in the Intergovernmental Agreement is jointly decided by the Indian and the French negotiating teams without participation of any other agency," Sinha said.
Sinha was one of the top Air Force officials leading the Indian negotiating team.
Kumar, who was the defence secretary when the deal was signed, said the matter refers to sovereign guarantee and not the price. There were several unsettled issues that were being sorted out and sovereign guarantee was one of it, he said.
"All the price negotiations were conducted by the committee," Kumar asserted.
Referring to the note, Sinha said the official who initiated it was not a part of the negotiating team and he had no "locus standi" to do so.
Sinha added that he had seen the note for the first time in the media.
"None of us were aware of the note and neither was it discussed with the Indian negotiating team," he added.
WATCH: Rafale row rages on
(With inputs from PTI)