Amid a raging debate over the Rafale deal, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday said that the attack by Congress will only bring Prime Minister Narendra Modi to power again with "great numbers" in the upcoming Lok Sabha elections.
The Congress and the Modi government were on Friday involved in a slugfest over the Rafale deal after a report in 'The Hindu' published an internal note of the Ministry of Defence (MOD) dated November 24, 2015 quoting para 5 of the note stating that the PMO ran a parellel negotiation with the French government in 2015.
'It's not 2G or Bofors', says Sitharaman as she rejects Opposition's demand for JPC over Rafale deal
Using the report, Congress President Rahul Gandhi stepped up his attack on PM Modi demanding answers to questions raised in the news piece, 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 prompting Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman to make a statement.
ALSO READ | Cong cites report claiming PMO held parallel negotiations, top official rubbishes charge
However, little did Gandhi know that the internal note was "incomplete" and did not mention the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar's observation. The complete note was later accessed by ANI, which had Parrikar's response as follows: "It appears PMO and French President office are monitoring progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting. Para 5 appears to be an over reaction."
In an exclusive conversation with India TV Editor-In-Chief and Chairman Rajat Sharma, Sitharaman reiterated that the allegations in the media report were on the basis of an "incomplete" news, and Rahul Gandhi was levelling allegations on the same.
"I am unable to understand the meaning of parallel negotiations. PM is first among the equals in the Cabinet. If there are negotiations by MOD, why is there an issue if PMO is included in it. Why is it a concern if PM checks on the progress," Sitharaman told India TV.
Taking a dig at Rahul Gandhi, Sitharaman said, "you can wake one who is sleeping, but how will you wake someone who is acting to sleep."
"When I was giving detailed replies in the Parliament for 2.5 hours, he (Rahul Gandhi) was sitting right in front of me...were his ears shut then?," the defence minister asked.
"The attitude of Congress and continous attacks on the Rafale deal, will only bring Modi to power again with huge numbers," she said..
In the Parliament too, Sitharaman on Friday 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.
Air Marshal SBP Sinha (retired), who was leading the Indian negotiating team for Rafale fighter jet purchase, too 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 the 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.