The Rafale issue dominated both Houses of Parliament on Friday, with the Upper House adjourned for the day minutes after it convened amid protests over the controversial fighter jet deal, and the Opposition, led by the Congress and joined by TMC, Left and TDP members, disrupting proceedings in Lok Sabha.
Amid the Opposition uproar, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman made a suo motu statement on the issue in Lok Sabha and dismissed the report in ‘The Hindu’ as “flogging a dead horse”.
The report said the Prime Minister’s Office (PMO) had interfered in price negotiations in the Rafale deal.
Speaking on the issue during Zero Hour, Congress floor leader in Lok Sabha Mallikarjun Kharge dubbed the government “anti-national” and reiterated the party’s demand for constitution of a joint parliamentary committee (JPC) to examine the deal. “An investigation would materialise if a JPC is constituted. The truth will come out…all files would come to JPC. We do not want any other explanation.”
Referring to the report in The Hindu, Kharge said it has now been revealed what happened in the PMO and the Defence Minister’s office. “They (government) were saying yesterday that the Congress is stalling the purchase of combat aircraft. It is you who are indulging in theft and you are putting the stain on us.”
Speaking before Kharge, TMC’s Saugata Roy said: “The Defence Ministry had objected against the PMO undermining Rafale negotiations. It seems while there was a negotiating committee consisting of the deputy chief of Indian Air Force, the PMO, and particularly the National Security Adviser (NSA), was conducting a parallel negotiation in Paris with the French (side). The Defence Ministry had objected that this parallel negotiation by PMO, and the notorious National Security Adviser, was undermining bargaining capacity of the government.”
Speaker Sumitra Mahajan intervened at this stage and asked Roy, “Any paper will write anything and you will raise the matter here? Is the Prime Minister nobody?”
Roy replied, “The Defence Secretary had given a note…. The Defence Secretary said, ‘RM [Raksha Mantri] may please see. It is desirable that such discussions be avoided by the PMO as it diminishes our negotiating position seriously’. So actually it is undermining the negotiation. The price went so high because the offset was given to Reliance Defence, in order to help him, by the Prime Minister himself…. The triumvirate (names expunged from record) is destroying the backbone of (India’s) defence.”
As he saw Sitharamn step out of the House, Roy said, “I just saw the Defence Minister leaving because she does not want to face the House.” The Opposition forced an adjournment until noon some five minutes after it had met. As Congress MPs walked to the Well, they were joined by TDP, Trinamool and Left members. As the House convened at noon, Opposition members again came into the Well, shouting slogans and showing placards demanding PM Narendra Modi’s resignation. Later, Union minister Narendra Singh Tomar said Sitharaman had given “point by point answers”. He said it is not good to stall Lok Sabha proceedings and maintained that the media report is not correct.
Amid the protests, Sitharaman entered the House and made a suo motu statement. “They are flogging a dead horse”, Sitharaman said. “Periodical enquiries by PMO cannot be construed as interference.”
Commotion broke out shortly after papers were laid in the Upper House. As Leader of Opposition and Congress MP Ghulam Nabi Azad tried raising the Rafale deal issue, Chairman Venkaiah Naidu did not let Azad, or any other member, speak on the issue on the ground that he had disallowed a notice by a Congress MP under Rule 267, which permits putting the day’s business on hold to discuss a matter of importance.
“You can demand answers from the government during the discussion on President’s Address to the House. That is a larger opportunity given to all of you. We have already lost so much time,” he told Opposition members.