Defence Minister Says Report Saying "PMO Holding Parallel Negotiations Undermined Rafale Deal" Is Motivated
Another major controversy has come in the way of the Rafale deal between India and France. As per a report by The Hindu, the Defence Ministry raised strong objection to parallel negotiations held by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with the French side.
A Defence Ministry note dated November 24, 2015, said that the parallel discussions carried out by the PMO had dwindled the “negotiation position of Ministry of Defence (MoD) and Indian Negotiating Team”.
Parallel negotiation with the French govt
This strong-worded note was prepared by then Defence Secretary, G Mohan Kumar and addressed to the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar. The official documents, as reported by The Hindu, MoD strongly protested the negotiations carried out by the PMO, stating that it was “contradictory to the stand taken by MoD and the negotiating team.” The letter also said that if PMO was not confident about the outcome of negotiation by the MoD, “a revised modality of negotiations to be led by PMO at appropriate level may be adopted”.
In fact, G Mohan Kumar, in his own writing wrote, “RM (Raksha Mantri) pl. see. It is desirable that such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously.”
However, below that the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar wrote noting Defence Secretary’s protest on parallel discussions and calling it an overreaction.
— Shiv Aroor (@ShivAroor) February 8, 2019
As per this Defence Ministry note, the details of the parallel negotiations carried out by the PMO came to the ministry’s notice through a letter from General Stephen Reb, the head of the French Negotiating Team, dated October 23, 2015. This letter recorded the telephonic conversation of October 20, 2015, between Jawed Ashraf, Joint Secretary in PMO and Mr Luis Vassy, the Diplomatic Adviser to the French Minister of Defence. Post this, Air Marshal SBP Sinha, AVSM VM, Deputy Chief of Air Staff wrote to Jawed Ashraf. Ashraf, in his reply, confirmed holding a parallel meeting with Mr Vassy, the Diplomatic Advisor to the French Minister of Defence.
MoD’s note cites an example of how during the parallel discussion between Diplomatic Advisor to French Defence Minister and Joint Secretary to PM, one of the outcomes was that no Bank Guarantee was provisioned in the supply protocol. The letter further stated, “ the letter of comfort provides sufficient assurances of the proper implementation of the supply protocol by the industrial suppliers.”
However, this is in contradiction to the position taken by the MoD and conveyed by the Indian Negotiating Team, which said that the commercial offer “should be preferably backed by Sovereign/ Government Guarantee or otherwise by Bank Guarantee.”
Arguments and counter-arguments
Congress president Rahul Gandhi, citing The Hindu’s report launched an attack on the Modi government. In a press conference, Rahul Gandhi said that it was clear PM Modi is directly involved in the defence deal, as reported by The Times of India.
Lashing out Congress for Rahul Gandhi’s remark, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that all the questions pertaining to the defence deal has been answered by the government. She also alleged that The Hindu report was “motivated”. She replied on the Lok Sabha, “The Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar ji replied to that MoD note that remains calm, nothing to worry, everything is going alright.”
Also, while speaking to India Today, Former Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar said that right now he doesn’t remember the context in which he wrote the hand-written note. While talking to ANI, he further added that his dissent at that time had nothing to do with price but was about sovereign guarantees and general terms and conditions.
Another instance of alleged “parallel negotiation”
As per The Caravan’s report, which claims to have a collection of file notes detailing the communication between the defence ministry and the law ministry, which allegedly shows that the government repeatedly ignored serious objections by its own officials. The report also says that the National Security Advisor, Ajit Doval was a key member of the Indian negotiating team in discussions with the French representatives. Reportedly, it was in these discussions where most of these objections were effectively dismissed. Interestingly, NSA has no legal sanction to be part of the Indian negotiation team.
In October 2018, the government presented before the Supreme Court, a list of members of the negotiating team. However, neither did the list mention the role of PMO nor the NSA in these negotiations.