The 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 France did not have a choice, former French President Francois Hollande has been quoted by by French website Mediapart, as saying.
In the report, Hollande, who was President of France from May 2012 to May 2017, asserts that the French government and Dassault had no choice but to accept Anil Ambani as the offset partner. Defence Ministry spokesperson, however, was quick to deny the charge on Twitter.
"The report referring to former French president Mr Hollande's statement that government of India insisted upon a particular firm as offset partner for the Dassault Aviation in Rafale is being verified," the Defence Ministry said in a tweet.
"It is reiterated that neither government of India nor French government had any say in the commercial decision," it said.
The Mediapart report quoted Hollande as saying "we did not have a say in this...the Indian government proposed this service group and Dassault negotiated with (Anil) Ambani group. We did not have a choice, we took the partner who was given to us."
The opposition has been alleging that the Anil Ambani firm was favoured in the ₹21,000 crore contract at the cost of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) despite the private firm having no prior experience in aerospace manufacturing.
The Narendra Modi government has repeatedly said it was Dassault that chose its India partner and that the government has had no say in the deal. In an interview to The Indian Express on September 13, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had insisted that the two commercial enterprises — Reliance and Dassault — had taken the decision among themselves.
Julien Bouissou, the South Asia correspondent of French newspaper Le Monde, tweeted excerpts of an interview by Holllande to the news portal in which the former French President contradicted Modi government’s assertion that it was Rafale manufacturer Dassault that chose the Anil Ambani group as its India partner and it had no role in Dassault Aviation choosing Reliance as its partner.
"There is a serious industrial risk for Dassault, because we are dealing with a company that has never built a plane and never touched the defence. The offsets provided represent huge sums of money, and there is the question of the ability of local industry to absorb technology transfers," the report quoted a French defence analyst as saying.
In August, Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group has served legal notices to spokespersons and leaders of the Congress party asking them to “cease and desist” from levelling allegations against the Rafale deal.
The Congress and other opposition parties latched on to the report and stepped up their attack on the Modi government over the deal.
"President (Former) Francois Hollande should also enlighten us how the price went up from 590 crore in 2012 to 1690 crore in 2015 per Rafale fighter jet? Escalation of a mere 1100 crore. I am sure the Euro equivalent would not be a problem to calculate," Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari tweeted.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi had announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets after holding talks with then French President Hollande on April 10, 2015 in Paris.
The Opposition has been accusing the government of choosing Reliance Defence over state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to benefit the private firm though it did not have any experience in the aerospace sector.
After Hollande’s revelations, Congress President Rahul Gandhi tweeted saying “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. He has dishonoured the blood of our soldiers.”
With PTI and IANS inputs