Proof of Guilt: Timing of Parrikar’s noting of January 11, 2016 on Rafale File about PMO’s Parallel Negotiations
Manohar Parrikar signed the noting the day he chaired a DAC meeting on Rafale deal, and a day before Doval went to Paris to illegally negotiate with the French.
As a defence minister, Manohar Parrikar was known for two things: one was his propensity for miscommunication or putting his foot in the mouth very often, and the second, more creditable one was his ability to quickly dispose off files. All senior officials who worked with him in the Defence Ministry swear by his promptness in signing official files and returning them within a few hours, at best a day.
It then comes as a surprise that an important file noting on Rafale deal, which was initiated on November 24, 2015 and sent to him by the defence secretary on December 1, 2015 was signed by him on January 11, 2016. Why did he take 42 days or six weeks, instead of the six hours that he usually took to decide on a file?
The obvious answer lies in the content of the file noting, which was first reported by The Hindu on Friday. The fact that the defence secretary was endorsing the view of his bureaucrats in the ministry about Modi’s PMO seriously undermining the negotiations process and wanted Parrikar to tell Modi to stay away from conducting ‘parallel negotiations’ made it tricky for him. He clearly didn’t know how to handle the situation where the rule book showed fully illegality of Modi’s actions but who happened to be his RSS Parivar-mate and political leader.
But an even more interesting question is about the choice of date. Why did he sign it on January 11, 2016? Parrikar chaired a meeting of Defence Acquisition Council (DAC) on the same day, where the Rafale negotiations were discussed. Law ministry had raised four objections in its note which led to Parrikar-led DAC giving certain directions for future negotiations with France. These directions had to be given as Modi was insistent on having the big tamasha – what else has been his prime-ministership if not about tamashas – when then French President, Francois Hollande would come to India as a chief guest for the 2016 Republic Day.
How keen was Modi to sign the deal that his NSA, Ajit Doval, whose role in the whole deal has been as fishy as Modi’s, went to Paris with the secretary of Indian Negotiating Team (INT), an IAF officer, to illegally negotiate with the French side? Doval negotiated with the French side on January 12 and 13, 2016. The draft Inter-Government Agreement (IGA) was finalized there, with Doval conceding everything to the French to seal the deal, and a joint document was signed between the two side on January 13, 2016.
It must be emphasised that Doval becoming part of these negotiations was completely illegal and against every single rule of Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP), which is the bible for any defence deal. That Parrikar facilitated Doval’s illegal involvement, looking serious written warnings by his own bureaucrats, puts the defence minister as much under the cloud of charges as Modi and Doval.
In a hurry to have the deal signed during Hollande’s visit, commercial negotiations began between the two sides on January 15, 2016. The French knew that Modi was desperate for signing the deal and they dug their heels. In fact, one of the meetings soon thereafter had to end abruptly as the French refused to give any discounts. A couple of days after the abruptly-ended meeting, they even wrote a strongly-worded letter to Parrikar about the prices. This was also reported by a few journalists at that time.
Despite Modi, Doval and Parrikar’s entreaties, the French knew that Modi had a personal interest in the deal. It is what President Hollande also told AFP: Modi’s new formula for Rafale was only about ensuring that Anil Ambani gets the offset contract, and he was willing to let the Indian exchequer bleed for it.
It is not wrong to say that to benefit Ambani and get pecuniary benefits for himself and the BJP from the Rafale deal, Modi and Parrikar overlooked the strong objections of top defence ministry bureaucrats. That is why Parrikar signed the note after six weeks, where he did not answer any of the objections raised by the bureaucrats or confront Modi and Doval about their illegalities. Therein lies the significance of January 11, 2016 when Parrikar finally said something timid and irrelevant on such a strong objection by his bureaucrats.
Parrikar’s signed annotation on the deal is as much a proof of his and Modi’s guilt as any we have had till date. We should be thankful to Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and that news-agency named ANI for putting that proof of guilt out. It is only a matter of time before the guilty are brought to book.