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'Over Reaction': Centre Cites Parrikar's Response to Defence Ministry's Dissent Note on Rafale Talks

Defence ministry had in its note objected to 'parallel parleys' by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with the French authorities for the Rafale deal.

News18.com

Updated:February 8, 2019, 8:57 PM IST
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'Over Reaction': Centre Cites Parrikar's Response to Defence Ministry's Dissent Note on Rafale Talks
File photo of Goa CM Mnanohar Parrikar. (Image: PTI)

Manohar Parrikar, who was the defence minister during the Rafale deal, had in a note termed his own ministry’s apprehension to the Prime Minister’s Office intervening in the negotiation as an “over-reaction.”

Defence ministry had in its note objected to “parallel parleys” by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with the French authorities for the Rafale deal.

On Friday morning, Congress found new steam in its attack on the ruling BJP over the controversial Rafale deal when The Hindu, cited a November 24, 2015 note of the defence ministry, which said that parallel discussions by the PMO “weakened the negotiating position of the MoD and Indian Negotiating Team.”

The report further quoted the note stating, “We may advise the PMO that any officers, who are not part of the Indian Negotiating Team may refrain from having parallel parlays (parleys) with the officers of the French government.”

In reply to this, current defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday morning launched an all-out attack on the Congress in Lok Sabha. The senior BJP leader dismissed the report as "selective journalism." Sitharam said that The Hindu had not cited the entire note and left out Parrikar’s reply to it.

In the note, tweeted by news agency ANI, Parrikar recorded: “It appears the PMO and the French President’s office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting. Para 5 appears to be an ‘over reaction’.”

Parrikar went on to write that the defence secretary may resolve the issue in consultation with principal secretary to the Prime Minister.

As the Congress claimed the note supports its contention about the interference of the PM's Office in the deal, Sitharaman called it "slanderous" and "irresponsible".

On the other hand, Congress President Rahul Gandhi, who has been at the forefront of the campaign against the Modi-led government over the Rafale deal, held a press conference to tear into the Prime Minister.

Reading out portions of the note, Gandhi said it has confirmed “what we have been saying for a year”. He said it is “crystal clear” that PM Modi bypassed the defence ministry in signing the fighter jet deal.

Gandhi repeated his charge against PM Modi saying, “Chowkidar chor hai”

But Sitharaman argued that a call for updates by the Prime Minister's Office cannot be termed as interference. However, the fact that Manohar Parrikar had addressed the issue raises further questions on the contention of there being an over-involvement from the PMO.

National Conference chief Omar Abdullah pointed out that Parrikar's choice of words implied “imperfect knowledge” about the PMO's exchanges with the French government.

"The then Defence Minister @manoharparrikar was clueless about the progress of negotiations. All he could say was ''IT APPEARS that @PMOIndia & French President''s office are monitoring the progress''. He had no direct knowledge of progress & passed the buck back to the PMO," Abdullah tweeted.

“How can he claim that “para 5 is an over-reaction” when he had no direct knowledge of the status or content of the negotiations? His act of passing the matter for the Def Sec to resolve with PMO clearly shows he had no grounds on which to base his “over-reaction” assessment?” the NC leader said in another tweet.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari also pointed out that according to rules, the administrative head of a ministry is the secretary of the department.

“Negotiations are not a policy matter, ministers look at policy matters and administrative matters fall to the domain of the secretary. In this instance, defence minister had no business, did not have statutory prerogative of over-ruling," he said.

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| Edited by: Ahona Sengupta
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