DefMin objected against PMO undermining Rafale talks

DefMin objected against PMO undermining Rafale talks

The raging controversy surrounding the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets from a French armament major took a new turn on Friday with the publication of a Ministry of Defence note that claims existence of a parallel negotiation process conducted by Narendra Modi's Prime Minister's Office.

“Such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it undermines our negotiating position seriously,” then Defence Secretary G Mohan Kumar wrote in the note on Dec 1, 2015 bringing the issue to the notice of then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar.

The MoD note has been accessed exclusively by The Hindu newspaper that published a front-page report on the basis of the document.

Courtesy: The Hindu

“Such parallel discussions by the PMO has weakened the negotiating position of the MoD and Indian negotiating team. We may advise PMO that any officers, who are not part of the Indian negotiating team may refrain from having parallel parleys with the officers of the French government,” it says.

“In case the PMO is not confident about the outcome of the negotiations being carried out by the MoD, a revised modality of negotiations to be led by the PMO at appropriate level may be adopted in the case,” it adds.

READ: Sitharaman rubbishes media report on Rafale deal

When asked by a news agency, Kumar didn't deny existence of the note but maintained that it dealt with bank guarantee and general terms and conditions of the Rs 59,000 crore defence deal and not on the prices of individual jets.

Nevertheless, publication of the defence ministry note provides fresh fuel to the ongoing Rafale fire with Congress president Rahul Gandhi attacking the Modi government while Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman defended the deal in the Lok Sabha by highlighting the response given by Parrikar to the note.

More than a month after Kumar red-flagged the issue, Parrikar in his response wrote, “It appears that PMO and French President's Office are monitoring the progress of the issues, which was an outcome of the summit meeting. Para 5 appears to be an overreaction. Defence secretary may resolve issue/matter in consultation with Principal Secretary to PM.”

The summit meeting was planned in the last week of January as President Francois Hollande was the Chief Guest of the Republic Day.

In a preceding paragraph of the note, the MoD bureaucrats described what they called a “glaring example” of weakening of India's negotiating position.

One of the outcomes to the discussions between Diplomatic Adviser to the French Defence Minister and Joint Secretary to PM, according to the note, was not to have a provision of Bank Guarantee in the supply protocol and acceptance of a letter of comfort from the French side as sufficient assurance of the proper implementation of the supply protocol by the industrial suppliers.

“This is contrary to the position taken by the MoD and conveyed by the Indian Negotiating Team that the commercial offer should be preferably backed by Sovereign/Government Guarantee or otherwise by Bank Guarantee,” it says.

READ: PMO directly involved in Rafale deal: Rahul Gandhi

Absence of a sovereign guarantee and bank guarantee in the contentious deal and location of the court of arbitration (in case of a dispute) are some of the serious flaws of the deal as highlighted by the opposition parties and critics of the contentious defence agreement.

“We do not have any record or any knowledge that any MoD official has conveyed to JS to PMO that any arrangement other than Sovereign/Government or Bank Guarantee is adequate and the implementing court for a decision by arbitration tribunal shall not be specifically Indian,” it adds.