Bengaluru (Karnataka): Chairman of The Hindu Group N Ram, who wrote about the then Defence Secretary Mohan Kumar’s dissent note on Rafale fighter jet deal negotiation issue, said on Friday that the government was trying to “cover up” on the matter and asserted that he does not require any certificate from Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman about his ethics of journalism.
“The story is complete in itself because we had not dealt with then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar’s role in the Rafale deal negotiations and that needs investigation. There is no other side,” Ram told ANI here.
He was responding when asked to comment on Sitharaman’s remarks which suggested that the story published by Ram was not complete.
“A newspaper published a file noting written by (then) Defence Secretary. If a newspaper publishes a noting, then the ethics of journalism will demand that the newspaper publishes the then Defence Minister’s reply as well,” Sitharaman said earlier in the day.
Responding to her comments, Ram said, “They are now in deep trouble and trying to cover-up. My advice to her (Sitharaman) would be that you are not involved in the transactions. Why do you take upon yourself the burden of justifying the indefensible?”
He added, “Manohar Parrikar’s role has to be separately investigated further, whether he was consulted on it. He (Parrikar) clarifies that he has been in touch. But he is not taking any stand.”
Citing the letter, the veteran journalist said, “He (Parrikar) does not say they are monitoring. It appears that the Prime Minister’s Office and the French President’s office are monitoring. This is not monitoring, but parallel negotiations conducted behind the back of the Indian negotiating team.”
Asserting that the newspaper’s intention is to bring out the truth, Ram said, “Our story was on a particular aspect. No story is complete. Our previous story was focusing on the price. We did not look at the benchmark price. We looked at the price per aircraft. We did not look at the offset arrangements. Our story was on defence ministry’s objections to parallel negotiations, as nobody knew about this.”
Ram further said that the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) not only undermined the position of the Indian negotiators, but also the Ministry of Law and Justice which had made the point on sovereign guarantee during the negotiations.
Ram claimed that the finances of French aerospace major Dassault Aviation “are not very secure and they are very fragile.” He said three members of the Indian negotiating team had raised the issue earlier as well.
The report published by him said that the Defence Ministry officials had raised concerns over the direct involvement of PMO in the Rafale deal, saying “parallel discussion by the PMO had weakened the negotiating position of MoD (Ministry of Defence) and Indian Negotiating Team.”
However, Parrikar, in the same file, had noted at the end, “It appears that PMO and French President office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting. Para 5 appears to be an overreaction.”
Parrikar had tasked Kumar to resolve the matter in consultation with Principal Secretary to the Prime Minister.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Friday displayed the file noting at a press conference to suggest that all was not well in the government during the Rafale deal negotiations.
Earlier, speaking in the Lok Sabha, Sitharaman said: “Then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar ji 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?”
The Congress and other opposition parties have been attacking the government on the Rafale deal issue of not taking a sovereign guarantee from the French side.