21:19 GMT05 July 2020
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    The Indian Defence Ministry set up a seven-member negotiation committee for the purchase of 36 Rafale jets from France under the government to government contract. However, The Hindu, an Indian English-language daily, has revealed that there were parallel negotiations for the same deal by Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s office.

    New Delhi (Sputnik) — India's Ministry of Defence (MoD) in 2015 objected to "parallel negotiations" conducted by the Prime Minister's Office (PMO) with France when the two countries were discussing the Rafale jet deal.

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    The ministry officials, in a note dated 24 November 2015, had sought to alert the then Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar of the parallel negotiations, a report by Indian news daily The Hindu reveals.

    "We may advise PMO that any officers who are not part of the Indian negotiating team may refrain from having parallel parlays [parleys] with the officers of the French Government", a note said, going on to suggest that "in case the PMO is not confident about the outcome of negotiations being carried out by the MoD, a revised modality of negotiations to be led by PMO at appropriate level may be adopted in the case", excerpts of the note read, as published by The Hindu.

    The MoD note also indicates that officials of the ministry came to know of the parallel negotiations by the PMO after General Stephen Reb, the head of the French Negotiating Team, in a letter to the ministry "made mention of a telephonic conversation between Shri Jawed Ashraf, Joint Secretary in the Prime Minister's Office and Mr. Luis Vassy, Diplomatic Adviser to the French Minister of Defence, which took place on 20.10.2015".
    Reacting to the development, the opposition Congress Party has demanded an investigation into the matter by a joint parliamentary committee.
    "We have been saying this for more than a year that the Prime Minister is directly involved in the Rafale scam…It is absolutely black and white that the Prime Minister himself had been carrying a parallel negotiation with the French", Rahul Gandhi, president of the Congress Party, said while addressing the media on Friday morning.

    Rubbishing the opposition's claims, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said that the French official was only referring to "periodic enquiries" by the PMO on the deal.

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    "They are flogging a dead horse. Periodical enquiries by the PMO cannot be construed as interference", Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman said in a suo-motu statement in parliament on Friday at noon.
    She charged the opposition with playing into the hands of multinational companies and vested interests and not working in the interests of the Indian Air Force. The delivery of the Rafale fighter jet is scheduled to begin from September this year.    


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