Nirmala Sitharaman and Rahul Gandhi locked horns on Friday over latest allegations of the PMO’s role in the Rafale deal.

‘Flogging Dead Horse’: Nirmala Rejects Rahul’s Latest Rafale Jibe

Video Editor: Mohd. Irshad Alam, Md. Ibrahim

Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and Congress President Rahul Gandhi engaged in a war of words on Friday, 8 February, that was sparked over allegations against Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the PMO’s alleged role in the Rafale deal.

Gandhi slammed Modi over his Rafale deal pricing, alleging that he was “directly involved and stole money.”

On the basis of a report published in The Hindu, Rahul said that “parallel discussions” were being conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with the French side over Rafale deal.

“PM Narendra Modi himself robbed Air Force’s Rs 30,000 crore and gave it to Anil Ambani. We have been raising this since one year. Now, a report has come where Defence Ministry officials are also saying that the prime minister was holding parallel negotiations with France government.”
Rahul Gandhi, Congress President

‘Flogging a Dead Horse’

Sitharaman dismissed the media report on the Rafale jet deal as "flogging a dead horse" and accused Gandhi and the Opposition of playing into the hands of multinational companies and vested interests.

She said that all questions on Rafale had been answered “thoroughly and transparently.”

Sitharaman also said that the newspaper should have reached out to the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, if they “wanted to bring out the truth.”

“The then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar replied to that MoD note that remain calm, nothing to worry, everything is going alright. Now, what do you call the NAC led by Sonia Gandhi’s interference in earlier PMO? What was that?”
Nirmala Sitharaman, Defence Minister

What Does The Hindu Report Say?

The Hindu’s report by senior journalist N Ram, quoting an internal Defence Ministry note said that the “parallel discussions” by the Prime Minister’s Office “weakened” the negotiating position of India in the Rafale deal.

The note was dated 24 November 2015, and was signed by the then Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar, and Deputy Secretary SK Sharma. The note was also brought to the attention of the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar, the report said.

“We may advise PMO that any Officers who are not part of Indian Negotiating Team may refrain from having parallel parlays [parleys] with the officers of French Government.”
Defence Ministry Note, cited by The Hindu
(Photo courtesy: The Hindu)

The note also states that if the PMO is “not confident” about the Defence Ministry’s negotiation, “a revised modality of negotiations to be led by PMO at appropriate level may be adopted in the case.”

‘Note Had Nothing to Do With Price’

Retired IAS Officer G Mohan Kumar, who served as the defence secretary at the time of Rafale negotiations, said the note had “nothing to do with price.”

Speaking to ANI, he said:

“It had nothing to do with price. It was about sovereign guarantees and general terms and conditions.”
G Mohan Kumar, Retired Defence Secretary 

‘PM Modi Negotiated for Anil Ambani’

Gandhi said that the report showed in “black and white” that the prime minister was involved in the Rafale deal scam. He accused PM Modi of negotiating on Anil Ambani’s behalf.

“Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman too lied. Former French President has admitted that he was made to choose Anil Ambani by PM Modi himself.”
Rahul Gandhi, Congress President

‘Do I Look Rattled to You?’

When asked if the Congress president was rattled by the corruption allegations against the members of the party, he said, it was the prime minister who was rattled.

“Do I look rattled to you? Please take a good look at the PM and take a good look at me and figure out who looks rattled.”
Rahul Gandhi, Congress President

He said that while the Modi government can question any party member, and even his brother-in-law Robert Vadra, but they wanted a JPC probe in the deal.

“You continue with inquiry on Robert Vadra, P Chidambaram. Probe any Congress member you want but we demand a JPC on Rafale deal.”
Rahul Modi, Congress President

He also demanded the prime minister to provide answers about the pricing of Rafale.

“Yesterday, PM Modi gave a lengthy sermon, why doesn’t he answer these questions? Why doesn’t he state the reason for parallel negotiations?”
Rahul Gandhi, Congress President