Millennium Post

Rahul, Nirmala spar over explosive def ministry note

NEW DELHI: The Prime Minister's Office was directly involved in negotiations with the French on the Rafale deal, and Prime Minister Narendra Modi was guilty in the scam, Congress president Rahul Gandhi said on Friday in a fresh attack on the government over the fighter jet agreement.

It is an open and shut case, Gandhi declared, citing a report in The Hindu newspaper claiming the Defence ministry raised strong objections to "parallel discussions" conducted by the PMO during the negotiations over the Rs 59,000 crore Rafale deal between India and France.

"I want to speak to every member of the armed forces of this nation... Here, it is absolutely clear that the prime minister has stolen Rs 30,000 crore of your money, bypassed a process, and given it to his friend Anil Ambani," Gandhi said at a press conference.

The government, as well as Ambani, have vehemently denied any wrongdoing in the fighter jet agreement with France.

Gandhi also read out from a document, purportedly from the Defence ministry, published in the newspaper.

"Now, it is crystal clear that the ministry itself has said, and I will read it to you, 'It is therefore clear that the parallel discussions by the PMO had weakened the negotiation of the MOD and the Indian Negotiating Team. We may advise PMO that any officers who are not part of the Negotiation Team may refrain from having parallel parleys with the officer of the French government'," Gandhi said.

The Congress president also reiterated his demand for a joint parliamentary committee to probe the Rafale deal.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday rejected Congress President Rahul Gandhi's charge that Prime Minister Narendra Modi ran parallel negotiation for the Rafale deal and accused him of provoking the armed forces against the government.

"Today I object to what Rahul has said - he was telling Air Force pilots and officers 'look what Prime Minister is doing to you'. What does this mean, what is going on in his mind? Does he want to provoke them? Does he want to make them stand up against the government? Is it a responsible job of the Opposition? It is very dangerous," she told media outside Parliament.

"Congress has become a toy in the dirty game of multinational corporates. Their language is not in the interest of the country," she alleged.

Lashing out at The Hindu for carrying out a "one-sided" story, the Defence Minister said, "One newspaper has printed a file noting, which is written by (former) Defence Secretary. In the same note, he is saying Defence Minister should make a statement.

"The then Defence Minister (Manohar Parrikar) has seen that noting and also signed it. What was the response of then Defence Minister Parrikar? I said the same thing in Parliament."

Slamming the media house, she said, "If the news report carried one noting, then it should have also carried the response of the then Defence Minister in its news report. That is ethical journalism."

Quoting the then Defence Minister's reply to that file noting, Sitharaman said, "Your note is right, but there is no need to get excited so much. Everything is alright. This was Parrikar's reply, which is there in the files of the Defence Secretary."

"I am sorry there was selective noting and building an issue falsely on it," she said, adding that the response of the then Defence Minister was very clear.

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