New Delhi, Oct 25 (UNI) Newly-inducted Defence Minister AK Antony today affirmed his commitment to protecting "national interest" while finalising defence deals.
"In all aspects we will try to protect national interest... That is the priority," the Minister told mediapersons here immediately after assuming his new charge at the Ministry of Defence in South Block this forenoon.
Minister Antony -- who returns to the Union Cabinet after an eleven year gap and succeeds Pranab Mukherjee, named External Affairs Minister, following yesterday's Cabinet expansion-cum- reshuffle -- was replying to a pointed query about the role of middlemen in defence deals.
Further elaborating -- thrice Kerala Chief Minister and presently Rajya Sabha member as also Conmgress Working Committee member, Minister Antony did not rule out ''controversies'' in defence purchases.
''Controversy cannot be avoided in a Ministry like Defence... But we will work to protect the national interest....'' On charges that past defence deals were being probed to ''settle political scores'', Minister Antony was quick to reaffirm that he would act ''only in national interest''.
''We are living in a democracy, that too a transparent democracy... Every action of a publicman, whether a Minister or official or Parliamentarian, the people are scanning... This fact everyone should be aware of... I will try and protect national interest to the utmost....'' Describing his new assignment as ''a challenging one'', the Defence Minister said he had already spoken briefly to Defence Ministry officials last night -- immediately after he had been sworn-in at the Rashtrapati Bhawan late in the evening -- about their functioning and ''some important areas'' like modernisation had been brought to his notice.
''The Defence Secretary and other officials briefed me about the conditions in important divisions... Some important areas like modernisation were brought to my attention and the problems of the Armed Forces in general....'' Refusing to elaborate further, Minister Antony observed: ''I cannot start reacting on the basis of every brief discussions considering that it is an important matter... Yesterday's briefing was only an introduction... I need a more detailed briefing... Then only I will react on policy matters....'' He further pointed out that in a Ministry like Defence ''you cannot react unless you are fully aware of the facts''.
Minister Antony, 65, currently also looks after the Congress party's affairs in Karnataka. He was Union Civil Supplies Minister in the PV Narasimha Rao Government but resigned in 1995 in the wake of the ''Sugar Scam''.
Mr Antony has also held several important positions in the All India Congress Committee.
UNI DG VA BS1512