Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said, 'It is very dangerous…Is he trying to provoke the defence forces?'
New Delhi: Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday launched a counter-attack on Congress chief Rahul Gandhi over the Rafale deal.
Sitharaman said raising the Rafale deal issue on the basis of a media report is “flogging a dead horse”. She questioned Rahul Gandhi over his criticism that the Prime Minister diverted “Rs 30,000crore to his industrialist friend Anil Ambani” which could have been used for defence forces.
Sitharaman said, “It is very dangerous…Is he trying to provoke the defence forces?”
Earlier, the defence minister defended the Rafale deal in Lok Sabha, where she made a statement after the opposition members disrupted the proceedings in the house and demanded clarification from the government over The Hindu report.
The media report claimed that at height of the Rafale negotiation, ministry officials objected to “parallel parleys by the PMO” with the French authorities.
In a press conference on Friday, Rahul Gandhi read out portions from the report and said the report has confirmed “what we have been saying for a year”.
Gandhi said it is “crystal clear” that PM Modi bypassed the defence ministry in signing Rafale deal.
Gandhi repeated his charge against PM Modi saying, “Chowkidar chor hai (the watchman is a thief.”
In her response, Sitharaman also objected to the “language” used by Gandhi. “I honestly expected more from the Congress party,” she said.
The defence minister also questioned the “journalistic ethics” of the newspaper that published a defence ministry note “selectively”.
Sitharaman said, “Then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar ji replied to that MoD note that remain calm. There is nothing to worry about. Everything is going alright. Now, do you call the NAC (the national advisory council during the Manmohan Singh government) led by Sonia Gandhi as interference in earlier the PMO? What was that?”
Responding to the defence minister’s reply in the Lok Sabha, Congress leader Mallikarjun Kharge said, “We demand a joint parliamentary committee, everything will be revealed then, we don’t want any explanation now, have heard many explanations, from PM also,” he said.
The Hindu report has created fresh controversy over Rafale deal as it claimed that senior defence ministry officials objected to what they termed “parallel parleys” by the PMO officials with the French authorities while the Indian Negotiating Team was handling the talks for procuring fighter jets for the Indian Air Force.
The deal was signed between India and France at the inter-governmental level in 2016 for the purchase of 36 fighter jets.