Ex-air marshal who led Indian team in Rafale deal backs PMO
Retired Air Marshal S.B.P. Sinha, who led the Indian negotiating team in the Rafale deal, on Friday rejected the allegation that the Prime Minister’s Office had held “parallel negotiations” with the French.
Former defence secretary G. Mohan Kumar too said the accusation was “absolutely wrong”.
A report in The Hindu says a deputy secretary in the defence ministry had in a November 2015 note objected to the PMO’s “parallel negotiations”, saying they had “weakened the negotiating position” of the ministry and the negotiating team.
It says that Kumar, then defence secretary, had added a comment to the note for the benefit of then defence minister Manohar Parrikar, asserting “such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously”.
On Friday, Kumar said the deal was negotiated in the “most transparent way”.
Sinha said the official who initiated the file noting was not part of the negotiating team and questioned his “locus standi” and motive.
“It is unclear at whose behest this note was written,” he said. “None of us were aware of the note and neither was it discussed with the Indian negotiating team.”
Sinha claimed he had seen the note for the first time in the media. “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,” he said.
Kumar said the matter raised in the note referred to the sovereign guarantee and not the price.
A sovereign guarantee is a promise by a government to discharge the liability of a third person in case of default by this person. However, France has given India only a letter of comfort — an assurance about a debt that falls short of a legal guarantee — as part of the Rafale deal.
“All the price negotiations were conducted by the committee,” Kumar asserted.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi has used the news report to call Prime Minister Narendra Modi a “thief”.