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Rafale deal: Sitharaman rubbishes news report alleging PMO 'parallel talks' on jet price

Sitharaman said the media report was about "flogging a dead horse", she slammed the Opposition for playing into the hands of vested interests

By PTI in New Delhi
  • Published 8.02.19, 3:04 PM
  • Updated 8.02.19, 3:04 PM
  • 2 mins read
Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman speaks in the Lok Sabha during the Budget Session on Friday. PTI

Defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday rose in the Lok Sabha to rubbish an exclusive news report in The Hindu on the Rafale deal, written by the chairman of publishing group N.Ram, that said "the Defence Ministry raised strong objections to 'parallel negotiations' conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with the French side".

Sitharaman said the media report was about "flogging a dead horse". She slammed the Opposition for playing into the hands of vested interests.

Amid the Opposition uproar over Rafale, Sitharaman made the suo motu statement in the House.

Immediately after the House convened at noon, members of the Congress, Trinamul and the TDP entered the well, shouting slogans and showing placards referring to the media report which claimed that the Prime Minister's Office had interfered in price negotiations in the multi-billion fighter jet deal.

Opposition members were heard shouting slogans demanding the resignation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The Opposition also demanded a joint parliamentary committee probe into the Rafale jet deal.

Speaker Sumitra Mahajan asked the slogan shouting members to go to their seats as she would allow them to speak on the matter.

Referring to the media report, Saugata Roy of Trinamul alleged that parallel negotiations were on when the defence ministry's negotiating committee was handling the matter.

He also alleged that "notorious" national security advisor Ajit Doval was conducting parallel negotiations in Paris, undermining the bargaining power of the government.

"It concerns national security... (Prime Minister Narendra) Modi is destroying the defence of the country and undermining negotiations... Why has PMO interfered? Rafale stands out to be the biggest scandal," he said.

Mahajan intervened, saying that a newspaper may write anything and "you are raising the issue".

Sticking to the demand for constitution of JPC, leader of the Congress in the Lok Sabha, Mallikarjun Kharge, called the government anti-national. "You (government) are anti-national. You indulged in stealing but are instead blaming us.... You are buying only 26 jets as against 126," he said.

He alleged that the defence minister and the PMO were fighting on the issue and the matter has come out in the media. "That is why you need to constitute a JPC as the reality will come out. All files would come to the JPC. We do not want any other explanation.... We do not want to listen to anything," he said.

The speaker said a discussion had already been done on the matter.

Union Minister Narendra Singh Tomar said the government participated in the discussion and point by point answers were given by the defence minister. He said it was not good to stall Lok Sabha proceedings and that the media report was not correct.

Amid the shouting and sloganeering, Sitharaman entered the House and made her statement. "They are flogging a dead horse. Periodical enquiries by the PMO cannot be construed as interference," she said during Zero Hour.

The defence minister charged the Opposition with playing into the the hands of multinational companies and vested interests and not working in the interests of the Indian Air Force.

Referring to the report, which claimed that the then defence secretary had objected to the PMO allegedly conducting price negotiations with the French company, Sitharaman said the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar had replied to the letter asking the official to remain "calm" as everything was "alright".

Sitharaman also alleged that the then chairperson of the National Advisory Council Sonia Gandhi used to run the PMO regularly during the UPA regime. "Was that not interference?" she asked.