A combative Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Friday termed as incomplete and distorted the news item published by a newspaper about parallel negotiations by the Prime Minister's Office in the Rafale fighter deal and wondered whether doubts were being deliberated created in the minds of people because of some corporate warfare.
In an exclusive interview to ANI, Sitharaman slammed Congress president Rahul Gandhi for constantly raising questions over the Rafale deal, equating him to a parrot and asked what moral authority he has to do so when he, along with his mother Sonia Gandhi and brother-in-law Robert Vadra are on bail.
She asserted that it is the duty of the prime minister to monitor progress in any deal or project and if the PMO checks on these, it cannot be termed as interference.
Referring to the news item which appeared in a newspaper on Friday, Sitharaman alleged that it was half truth, with the intention ... to create doubt in the minds of the reader.
The minister questioned whether it was not the responsibility of the journalist to try to get complete details or get response from the ministry before publishing the item.
Even if there was no response, an attempt could have been made, she added.
She said that while publishing the file notings of an officer of the defence ministry, the journalist should have looked for the response of the defence minister
But what they have done in publishing the item is not a complete job, Sitharaman said.
She said it was her suspicion and I have reason to suspect that publication of the news item was an attempt by some people, either by doing themselves, or whether because of corporate warfare that is going on.
Rejecting the contention about interference by the PMO, the Defence Minister said any PMO, not just under Narendra Modi, would naturally monitor the progress of any deal or even programmes like Ayushman Bharat.
The prime minister is the first among equals (in a cabinet) and if PMO checks on a ministry, it is not interference.... If the PMO is asking what is the status (of a project), it is not interference, Sitharaman underlined.
She then went on to attack the Congress, questioning the role of National Advisory Council (NAC) headed by United Progressive Alliance chairperson Sonia Gandhi when Manmohan Singh was the prime minister.
"If this (PMO asking about progress of a project) is seen as interference, I ask the Congress, what was the NAC under Sonia Gandhi.... What was its role? They were not under PMO or Cabinet Secretariat?.. Did it have any statutory status.... It was remote-controlling the PM. Was it not interference?" she said.
She equated Rahul Gandhi to a parrot which keeps repeating something and said 'You can wake up someone who is sleeping but not someone who pretends to sleep'.
Targeting Rahul Gandhi, she asked, Why is he on bail? Why is his mother on bail? Why is his brother-in-law on bail? How has he moral authority to question the PM?
Referring to the Congress president's press conference held on Friday morning, Sitharaman said, "See how he is provoking the armed forces. What was his language at the press conference. Nobody asked him what kind of language are you using? Are you provoking the armed forces?"
She said Modi monitors projects even at district level, earlier as Gujarat chief minister and now as prime minister.
"Otherwise, you think progress could have been made at this speed, without corruption, without middlemen? He monitors and ensures implementation of decisions," Sitharaman said.
Asked whether she, as defence minister, was worried as letters about Rafale deal were getting leaked, she said, "I am not worried about Rafale or any other decision we have taken, because we have gone on merit. But through selective leaking, distorted versions, false impression is created."