Sitharaman counters. Parrikar reply surfaces. Congress Rafale charge hits wall

A newspaper report describing a 2015 government note about the PMO’s “parallel” negotiation in the Rafale deal ignored Manohar Parrikar’s written appeal for calm, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said on Friday.

“If the newspaper wanted to bring the truth out, I would have thought it was incumbent on that newspaper to put that reply of the Raksha Mantri then also on record,” Nirmala Sitharaman told the Lok Sabha.

The Congress wasted no time on Friday in pouncing on an article in newspaper that said the defence ministry objected to the PMO’s “parallel negotiations” with France in 2015. The opposition party, which has long pointed to the agreement to accuse Prime Minister Narendra Modi of crony capitalism, said he had “single-handedly undermined India’s position”.

The defence ministry’s note, dated November 24, 2015, said the “parallel” discussions had “weakened the negotiating position” of the defence ministry and India’s negotiating team.

A handwritten message on the note from the then defence secretary asked Manohar Parrikar, who was then the defence minister, that “such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously”.

In his reply, Manohar Parrikar asked the defence secretary to remain calm, and told him there was nothing to worry about, Nirmala Sitharaman told Parliament.

The Congress has alleged that the NDA’s Rafale deal — for fewer jets overall but more planes in a flyaway condition — is costlier than the UPA-era deal, now scrapped.

A second allegation is that Anil Ambani’s Reliance Deffence, one of the jetmaker’s offset partners, was chosen under pressure from the Center.

‘WHAT ABOUT THE N.A.C?’

Pointing to a previous reply she had given Parliament, Sitharaman reminded MPs that when “periodically, the PMO enquires about the progress of any work, that cannot be construed as interference”.

Then, she trained her guns on the Congress and the UPA.

“What was the interference by the National Advisory Council — NAC — led by Shrimati Sonia Gandhi?,” Nirmala Sitharaman said.

“Did she interfere? Was that interference? If that is interference, then talk about it.”

Meanwhile, Union Minister Prakash Javadekar said at a press conference that Rahul Gandhi was acting at the behest of a multi-billion dollar company to strike down the Rafale deal against the national interest.

He asked what the Congress president’s meeting schedule was when he travelled to Europe.