Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday said “periodical enquiries” by the Prime Minister’s Office in India’s negotiations with France on the Rafale deal “cannot be construed as interference”, PTI reported. She was responding to a media report that claimed that the Prime Minister’s Office was running “parallel negotiations” with France even when other officials were involved in discussing the Rafale jet deal in 2015.
According to The Hindu’s report, the Ministry of Defence had, in 2015, objected to the intervention. Soon after the report was published, the Congress alleged that the prime minister had “lied to the country” about the Rafale jet deal.
Sitharaman, addressing the Lok Sabha, said the report by The Hindu was “flogging a dead horse”, NDTV reported. “Every question on Rafale has been answered thoroughly and transparently,” Sitharaman said. “Not just here in the House, but also in court.”
Sitharaman questioned why the media organisation did not approach the defence ministry before going ahead with publishing the story. “The said paper has gone ahead and published a report without any facts to back it,” she said.
The defence minister claimed that Manohar Parrikar, who held the position in 2015 when the deal proceedings were under way, had replied to the Ministry of Defence’s note. “The ministry had advised [the officials] to remain calm and said nothing to worry,” she said. “If a newspaper publishes a noting, then the ethics of journalism will demand that the newspaper publishes the then defence minister’s reply as well.”
She claimed the Congress was trying to provoke the Army and the Air Force against the government. “It is not only unfortunate but dangerous too,” she said. She accused the Opposition of playing into the hands of multinational companies and vested interests.
Meanwhile, ANI reported that Parrikar had replied to the dissent note by his ministry’s officials, and had called their remark about the intervention by the Prime Minister’s Office an “overreaction”. Parrikar had written: “It appears PMO and French President’s office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting. Para 5 [The paragraph in the dissent note where the officials remarked about the PMO] appears to be an overreaction.”