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Rafale deal: Manohar Parrikar downplayed concerns of officials, file noting shows

Nirmala Sitharaman interacts with BJP leader Nalin Kohli and Manohar Parrikar at the party office in South Mumbai on October 6, 2014.   | Photo Credit: PTI

As new evidence of interference by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) in the Rafale negotiations appeared in an exclusive story in The Hindu on Friday, the government, headed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi, sought to defend itself by citing then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s file notings, which appeared to downplay the concerns of the then Defence Secretary G. Mohan Kumar.

 

The Hindu reported that officials of the Ministry of Defence (MoD) had raised a red flag over the PMO’s direct negotiations with the French government that — they noted in the file — undermined the official negotiating team’s position.

Below Mr. Kumar’s noting, Mr. Parrikar wrote: “It appears that the PMO and French President’s office are monitoring the progress of issues which was an outcome of the summit meeting and Para 5 appears to be an overreaction. Def Sec may resolve issue/matter in consultation with the Pr. Sec to PM.”

Mr. Parrikar’s noting reiterates all the facts noted by officials in the file, and reported by The Hindu, though he characterised part of the note as an “overreaction,” before asking the Defence Secretary to deal directly with the PMO, effectively delegating responsibility for resolving the issue to the Ministry’s top official.

 

In Parliament, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman termed the questions regarding the PMO’s direct interference in the negotiations as “flogging a dead horse” and accused the Opposition of playing into the hands of multinational companies and vested interests. “They are flogging a dead horse. Periodical enquiries by the PMO cannot be construed as interference,” she told the Lok Sabha.

She also rebuffed the Opposition charge and asserted that if the PMO’s monitoring of a deal was construed as interference, one needed to recall that as the then Chairperson of the National Advisory Council, Sonia Gandhi used to run the PMO regularly during the UPA regime. The Defence Minister contended that Mr. Parrikar had replied to the letter by asking the official to remain “calm” as everything was “allright.” “This selective kind of noting and building an issue falsely on it is completely called out today,” Ms. Sitharaman told reporters.

Nirmala Sitharaman in Lok Sabha.

Nirmala Sitharaman in Lok Sabha.  

 

“The response of the then Defence Minister was very clear… Under the direction of the same Defence Secretary, who was also the member of the negotiating committee, with his signature the file went to the Cabinet Committee on Security for approval,” she said.

 

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday said then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had addressed the concerns raised by officials over the Rafale negotiations.

“The response of the then Defence Minister was very clear… Under the direction of the same Defence Secretary, who was also the member of the negotiating committee, with his signature the file went to the Cabinet Committee on Security for approval,” she said.

The Hindu’s report published an official communication in which MoD officials raise questions on how the PMO was holding “parallel negotiations” alongside the Indian Negotiating Team (INT). Mr. Parrikar’s noting in the letter was initially made public by the news agency ANI.

Though Ms. Sitharaman quoted it to defend the government’s stand, it raises more questions both on the manner in which the Defence Secretary was asked to go easy, and whether the Defence Minister was entirely in the know about all aspects of the negotiations.

 

Commenting on Mr. Parrikar’s role in the negotiations, former Jammu and Kashmir Chief Minister Omar Abdullah tweeted, “The then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar was clueless about the progress of negotiations. All he could say was “IT APPEARS that PMO & French President’s office are monitoring the progress”. He had no direct knowledge of progress & passed the buck back to the PMO.”

Following the revelations, the then Defence Secretary G. Mohan Kumar told ANI that the MoD letter had nothing to do with price. “It was about sovereign guarantees and general terms and conditions.” The government had repeatedly stated that the deal was between two sovereign governments and it was only recently revealed that the French government had given a ‘Letter of Comfort’ in lieu of sovereign guarantees.

Adequate safeguards

In a recent written reply in the Rajya Sabha, Ms. Sitharaman asserted that the ‘Letter of Comfort’ signed by the French Prime Minister and the IGA provide “adequate safeguards.” Also any dispute in the execution of the IGA would be settled through the Bilateral High Level Group established by the two governments, she added. “Any dispute not settled by this group shall be settled by arbitration in accordance with UNCITRAL (United Nations Commission on International Trade Law) arbitration rules,” Ms. Sitharaman wrote in the reply, indicating that despite the deal being negotiated through an IGA a dispute could be referred to a third party for resolution.

Further, Mr. Parrikar’s comment that the PMO might be “monitoring the progress of issues” strengthens arguments that the interference may have adversely affected the INT’s leverage.

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Printable version | Jan 17, 2021 3:46:53 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/national/rafale-deal-nirmala-sitharaman-says-manohar-parrikar-had-allayed-fears-on-pmo-role/article26214853.ece

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