The Congress launched a frontal attack on the Modi government on Monday, alleging the prime minister's office (PMO) "almost behaved like a middleman" by having "parallel negotiations" with the French government on the Rafale fighter jet deal.
A note of the Defence Ministry and then defence minister Manohar Parrikar's remarks have "nailed the PMO to the wall" telling the most dynamic story of "maleficence and rot" at "the highest echelons" of the NDA government, said Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari.
"I have great respect for the august office of the PMO. But, I would regretfully say, the PMO almost behaved like a middleman in this defence transaction. They must answer to our direct charge," Tiwari told reporters.
He also alleged that Parrikar "avoided responsibility" and "washed his hands off" when the concerns were expressed over the PMO's role in the negotiations.
"Parrikar is a wise man. He knew that there is something rotten and stinking out here and tried to distance himself and he nailed the Prime Minister," Tewari claimed.
There could be no greater "indictment" of the "unwarranted, excessive, indiscreet interference of the PMO" in the deal than what Parrikar's noting brings out, Tewari said.
"When do the comfort letters with regard to a procurement process get written to the Prime Minister of India. If the French PM has written to the PM of India, he has again squarely nailed him because what this letter implies is that in the minds of the French it is the PM of India who is negotiating the deal, not the Defence ministry," Tewari stated.
The 2015 Defence Ministry note, cited in a media report, had expressed strong objections to the "parallel" negotiations by the PMO.
Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, who dismissed the report in 'The Hindu' newspaper on the internal note, said it ignored the then defence minister Manohar Parrikar's reply to file notings of officials.
She said Parrikar had made a note asking officials to remain "calm" as everything was "alright".
Parrikar's handwritten remarks at the bottom of the note said "it appears that PMO and French President's Office are monitoring the progress of the issue which was an outcome of the summit meeting (between Modi and French President Francois Hollande in April 2015)".
Para 5, which referred to "parallel discussions" by the PMO, "appears to be an over-reaction", Parrikar wrote, adding Defence Secretary may resolve the matter in consultation with Principal Secretary to PM.
"She has that weird, hunted look on her face that is when a person is cornered. Actually, I sympathise with her plight -- it's a bad lawyer trying to defend a bad case," he stated.
He said since the Modi government has filed a statement that will be listed at some point of time in the Supreme Court, it was hoped by the Congress that the court will take cognizance of the "fact" that there was "parallel negotiation" that was being "pursued" by the PMO and that it was "deliberately hidden" from the apex court.
"Ministry of Defence did not give this input. Officials of PMO conveyed to some gentleman in French government that bank guarantee is not necessary and not having seat of arbitration in India. If the defence ministry did not give this input to PMO then on what basis these assurances were given to whosever in the French government," he asked.
The Congress spokesperson challenged the BJP government at the Centre to produce any documentary evidence to show that any Prime Minister of the country was ever involved in defence procurement negotiations.
"No amount of spin or propaganda will change the fact that this prime minister's office has done something that has never happened in the last 70 years -- that is negotiating a defence deal behind the back of their own defence ministry, with a foreign government," he charged.
Tiwari also questioned the role of the then defence secretary, saying he has a lot to answer for regarding the deal.
He accused the NDA government of telling "incessant lies" over the Rafale deal and said the Congress would not let the matter go away.
(This story has not been edited by Business Standard staff and is auto-generated from a syndicated feed.)