Rafale deal: Dassault, Modi Govt contradict former Prez Hollande; so who is lying?

Rafale jet-makers Dassault Aviation and the Indian govt have contradicted former French President Francois Hollande, saying that it was Dassault that chose Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as partner

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IANS Photo
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NH Political Bureau

Clouds of confusion have hovered over the controversial Rafale fighter jet deal ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi, on April 10, 2015, in Paris, announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets, made by Dassault Aviation, after holding talks with then French President Hollande. The French company subsequently entered into a joint venture with Anil Ambani’s company Reliance Defence Ltd—incorporated less than two weeks before PM Modi’s announcement—for making the Rafale jets. The Congress party has alleged that the Anil Ambani firm was favoured in the ₹58,000-crore Rafale contract at the cost of experienced, state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL), despite the private firm having no prior experience in aerospace manufacturing.

The Narendra Modi Government has insisted throughout that it was Dassault that chose its Indian partner and that the Indian government has had no say in it. Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman has insisted that the two commercial enterprises—Reliance and Dassault—had taken the decision among themselves.

Then yesterday, September 21, 2018 former French President Francois Hollande made a sensational revelation. He told a French website that the Narendra Modi Government had asked the French government to nominate Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence Industries as the partner for Dassault Aviation in the ₹58,000 crore Rafale jet fighter deal, and neither France nor Dassault had any choice in the matter.

Commentators in India reacted in shock and anger. “How can we tolerate a government which speaks lies?” asked former BJP leader and former Union Minister Yashwant Sinha. “The PM personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to François Hollande, we now know he personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to a bankrupt Anil Ambani. The PM has betrayed India,” said Congress President Rahul Gandhi. “What is the new lie that the government will put out in response to Mr Hollande?” asked former Finance Minister and senior Congress leader P Chidambaram.

French foreign ministry statement provides no succour to Modi Government

The Modi Government’s response to Hollande’s comments was to put out a statement via the Defence Ministry, reiterating “that neither government of India nor French government had any say in the commercial decision".

Then, in the wee hours of September 22, a Defence Ministry spokesperson on Twitter pointed to a statement by the French Ministry of Europe and Foreign Affairs, saying “The French government is in no manner involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners who have been, are being, or will be selected by French companies.”

This statement from the French embassy does not contradict what former President Hollande said, about the role of the French government in the selection of Reliance Defence Ltd.

The French foreign ministry then generically states, “In accordance with India’s acquisition procedure, French companies have the full freedom to choose the Indian partner companies that they consider to be the most relevant, then present for the Indian government’s approval the offsets projects that they wish to execute in India with these local partners so as to fulfil their obligations in this regard. As it happens, agreements have already been signed by French companies with many Indian firms, both public and private, under the framework of Indian laws.”

The ministry statement, however, is silent on the specifics of choice of Indian partner in the Rafale deal. It again does not contradict what Hollande said about the role of the Indian government in the selection of Reliance Defence Ltd for the Rafale deal. It provides no succour to the Indian Government’s claim that it had nothing to do with the decision to choose Anil Ambani’s company and it was Dassault which made the choice.

Who chose Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Ltd for the Rafale deal?

Thanks to the relentless of the Congress party and a handful of Indian media houses that have raised pertinent questions on the Rafale deal, the Indian public now knows that Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence Limited was selected as the offset partner for the ₹58,000 crore Rafale deal at the expense of experienced, state-owned HAL. Now former French President Hollande has said that that decision was made by the Narendra Modi Government.

On September 21, Dassault Aviation contradicted its country’s former President and quickly issued a statement “About the Rafale contract for India”. The statement said that “in accordance with the policy of Make in India, Dassault Aviation has decided to make a partnership with India’s Reliance Group. This is Dassault Aviation’s choice.” Dassault’s statement supports the Modi Government’s claim that the Indian government had nothing to do with the selection of Amabni’s Reliance Defence Ltd for the Rafale deal.

The two separate statements of fact by Francois Hollande on the one hand and Dassault and the Indian Govt’s contradictory statements on the other, cannot continue to co-exist, as if they were differences of opinion.

There is no longer any room for spin, suspect truth and alternative facts in establishing who made the decision to select Reliance Defence for Rafale.

Who is speaking the truth—former president Francois Hollande or Dassault Aviation/Indian Government? Perhaps the Indian Supreme Court will step in and shed light on the murky Rafale deal.

It’s high time the Indian public learns who chose Reliance Defence Limited.

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