Rahul Gandhi on Friday said it was now clear that Prime Minister Narendra Modi was a “thief” and that he had opened parallel negotiations with the French to help Anil Ambani benefit from the Rafale deal.
Rahul accused Modi and defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman of lying to the nation and misleading the Supreme Court to scuttle any possible inquiry.
Referring to a report in The Hindu, he said: “We have been saying for more than a year that the Prime Minister is directly involved. It is there in black and white now.”
According to the news report, the defence ministry had objected to the “parallel negotiations” the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) was conducting with the French side, saying they had “weakened the negotiating position” of the ministry and the negotiating team.
Rahul released a note that S.K. Sharma, deputy secretary in the defence ministry, had written on November 24, 2015.
“It is, therefore, clear that such parallel discussions by the PMO has (sic) weakened the negotiating position of MoD and Indian Negotiating Team (INT). We may advise PMO that any officers who are not part of the INT may refrain from having parallel parleys with the officers of French government,” the note said.
“In case the PMO is not confident about the outcome of negotiations being carried out by the MoD, a revised modality of negotiations to be led by PMO at appropriate level may be adopted in the case.”
Rahul said: “When an officer puts something on paper, he is doing it for a reason. It can’t be written stronger than this.”
He said the PMO’s parallel negotiations should be seen in the context of former French President Francois Hollande’s reported statement that the Indian government had suggested the name of the offset partner (Anil Ambani’s Reliance).
Asked about the government’s defence that the Supreme Court had given it a clean chit, Rahul said: “If the government lies to the Supreme Court, what judgment will they give? This information was withheld from the court.”
He added: “I want to tell the officers of the air force, ‘This is about your future. The Prime Minister has stolen your money, Rs 30,000 crore, to give to Anil Ambani. This could have been used for your safety, could have been given to your family’.”
Rahul went on: “The Prime Minister of India is a thief. I don’t like using strong words, but there is no other word I can use in this case.”
Asked about Modi’s allegation that the controversy reflected a corporate war, he said: “Absolutely, he is right. Modi was representing Anil Ambani in this deal; he was not working for you, not for (the) air force.”
The then defence secretary, G. Mohan Kumar, had made this comment on the note written by his deputy, Sharma: “RM (Raksha Mantri or defence minister) may pl see it. It is desirable that such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously.”
The Prime Minister of India is a thief. I don’t like using strong words, but there is no other word I can use in this case.
The Congress has rejected current defence minister Sitharaman’s argument that the response of then defence minister Manohar Parrikar, on the same file, shows that everything was “all right”.
According to news agency ANI, Parrikar’s comment, made on January 11, 2016, was: “It appears that PMO and French presidents office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting. Para 5 (about India’s negotiation position being weakened – addition by this newspaper) appears to be an over reaction. Def Sec (defence secretary) may resolve issue/ matter in consultation with Pr. Sec (principal secretary) to P.M.”
Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari said: “The division of labour is clear in the ministry. While the minister is the political head, the secretary is the administrative head. Defence procurement negotiations are an administrative matter, not a policy decision. The defence minister has no statutory prerogative to overrule the defence secretary in this matter.”
Congress communications chief Randeep Surjewala tweeted: “Parrikar’s file notings prove Prime Minister Modi’s illegal & illegitimate interference of parallel negotiations in the Rafale Deal. Will Modi answer for (sic) what is the quid pro quo for bypassing the INT? Who was the beneficiary thereof? Why was national security compromised?”
The Congress insists that Modi’s intervention should be seen in the context of HAL’s exit and Ambani’s entry as offset partner, apart from the jump in the price of the aircraft, which makes the objective and the identity of the beneficiary clear.
It argues that those defending the PMO intervention as part of the normal consultation process are ignoring the context and the outcome.
Surjewala tweeted: “Para 26 of Rafale affidavit in the SC says ‘As mandated by DAC (defence acquisitions committee), INT negotiated the deal.’ Then, how did PMO negotiate with French bypassing INT, more so when defence ministry had red-flagged it? The government misled SC by filing false affidavit. Will SC take action for perjury?”