India

PMO was directly negotiating Rafale deal despite MoD’s objections, reports The Hindu

“This not only nails PM’s lies but also shows that the government lied to the SC in submissions made in a sealed cover,” senior lawyer Prashant Bhushan said, reacting to newspaper’s exclusive report

NH Web Desk

Despite strong objections raised by the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) went on to conduct “parallel negotiations” over multi billion dollar Rafale deal with the French side, reported The Hindu on Friday.

N Ram, a veteran journalist and the Hindu publishing group chairman, in another lengthy report wrote that, “French side took advantage of parallel parleys by the PMO that weakened the negotiating position of MoD and Indian Negotiating Team.” The report referring to a Ministry’s 2015 note, said that the Ministry had brought it to the attention of the then Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar as well.

Quoting the note, the report read: “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.”

“Such parallel negotiations may be detrimental to our interests as the French side may take advantage of same by interpreting such discussions to their benefit and weakening the position taken by Indian Negotiating Team. This has precisely happened in this case,” the note added.

It goes on to read that the note had even suggested that “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.”

Citing Modi government’s submission to the Supreme Court of India in October 2018 that the negotiations over the Rafale deal were conducted by a seven-member team headed by the Deputy Chief of Air Staff, the report contested that “official documents available to The Hindu reveal, however, that the Defence Ministry protested that the position taken by the PMO was ‘contradictory to the stand taken by MoD and the negotiating team.’ The then Defence Secretary, G. Mohan Kumar, made this official notation in his own hand.”

The strongly-worded note, dated November 24, 2015, prepared by Kumar, states that “it is desirable that such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously.”

The details of the parallel negotiations conducted by the PMO came to the Ministry’s notice only from a letter of October 23, 2015 from General Stephen Reb, the head of the French Negotiating Team, according to the report.

The letter, it stated, “made mention of a telephonic conversation between Shri Jawed Ashraf, Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister’s Office and Mr. Luis Vassy, Diplomatic Adviser to the French Minister of Defence, which took place on 20.10.2015.”

And it goes on to add: “General Reb’s letter was brought to the notice of the PMO by the Defence Ministry. The head of the Indian Negotiating Team, Air Marshal S. B. P. Sinha, AVSM VM, Deputy Chief of Air Staff, also wrote to Mr. Ashraf, Joint Secretary to Prime Minister.”

The report has evoked sharp reactions with many questioning Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s role in the controversial deal. Describing the report as “shocking”, many Twitter users have accused Modi government of misleading the Supreme Court to benefit Anil Ambani’s firm Reliance Defence.

However, this is not the first instance of parallel negotiation over the Rafale deal. Earlier, it was reported that National Security Adviser, Ajit Doval, had also negotiated the deal with the French side in Paris in January 2016.

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