In the Supreme Court Wednesday, the Centre threatened action under the Official Secrets Act against two publications claiming their reports on the Rafale fighter deal were based on documents “stolen” from the Ministry of Defence.
But on February 8 — the day The Hindu newspaper published a report citing official notings and news agency ANI put out the same note with more notings — Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, while countering the contents of The Hindu report, made no mention of any “stolen” document when she spoke in Lok Sabha.
The Hindu report, citing a “Defence Ministry note” of November 2015, stated that the Ministry “raised strong objections to ‘parallel negotiations’ conducted by the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) with the French side” in the Rafale deal.
Sitharaman said the note published along with the report did not include a noting by the then Defence Minister, Manohar Parrikar, who had negated the concerns.
“When the newspaper itself has chosen to say or point out in detail the then Defence Secretary’s comment which was meant for the attention of the then Raksha Mantri, it should have also put the reply of the Raksha Mantri which was also given in writing. If the newspaper wanted to bring the truth out, I would have thought that it was incumbent upon that newspaper to put the reply of the then Raksha Mantri also on record,” she said.
Editorial | Stealing the facts
“The Opposition leaders who want a reply should now know what the reply of the then Raksha Mantri, Shri Parrikar was… The then Raksha Mantri, Shri Parrikar, had very clearly said in response to the file noting of the then Defence Secretary to ‘remain calm, there is nothing to worry, things are going all right’. To that extent, a detailed reply was given by the then Raksha Mantri, Shri Parrikar Ji … In all fairness, it should have been the duty of the newspaper which has published this to also put it on record the comment of the Defence Secretary and that the reply given was this,” she said.
News agency ANI released another copy of the note that included Parrikar’s response.
In her response, Sitharaman also pointed out that enquiries from the PMO on the progress of “any work cannot be construed as interference,” and questioned why Congress leader Sonia Gandhi’s “interference” as National Advisory Council (NAC) chairperson during the UPA regime was not reported.
Sitharaman charged the Opposition with damaging the country. “They are not interested in the Indian Air Force getting powerful. They are not interested in the Indian Air Force becoming empowered. They are working to the tunes of multinational corporate warfare. They are damaging this country. I charge them with that offence,” she claimed.