A Rafale fighter jet prepares to land following an aerial display at the 14th Dubai Air Show at Dubai World Central in Dubai. (Photographer: Jasper Juinen/Bloomberg)

India To Verify Report On Hollande’s Comments About Rafale Deal

In a significant development, a French media report quoted former French President Francois Hollande as purportedly saying that the Indian government proposed Reliance Defence as the partner for Dassault Aviation in the Rs 58,000-crore Rafale jet fighter deal and France didn't have a choice.

Reacting to Hollande's remark that's at variance with the stand taken by the Indian government, a Defence Ministry spokesman said on Friday, "The report referring to former French president 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 spokesperson also said, "It's reiterated that neither the government nor the French government had any say in the commercial decision."

Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, had chosen Reliance Defence as its partner to fulfill offset obligations of the deal. The government has been maintaining it didn't have any role in selection of the offset partner.

Hollande's remark is set to escalate the political slugfest over the controversial multi-billion dollar deal.

The French media 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".

Also read: Rafale Deal: Congress Demands Early Report On ‘Irregularities’ From CAG

The Congress and other opposition parties latched on to the report and stepped up their attack on the Modi government over the deal.

Congress President Rahul Gandhi led the opposition’s attack on the Prime Minister, accusing him of betraying India and dishonouring its soldiers.

Congress spokesperson Manish Tewari, too, took to Twitter to attack the NDA government.

Hollande was quoted by a French publication as saying that the Indian government proposed Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence as the partner for Dassault Aviation in the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale jet fighter deal and France did not have a choice.

Leaders of the Congress, the Left and the Aam Aadmi Party among others lashed out at the government soon after Hollande's comments were reported.

The Congress chief has been repeatedly targeting the government over the fighter aircraft deal, alleging corruption and cronyism.

"In the NDA-negotiated Rafale aircraft deal, we have got no aircraft, we have got only lies. What is the new lie that the government will put out in response to Mr Hollande? Defence Minister has been called out again! This time by then President of France, Mr Hollande," Congress leader P Chidambaram said.

The ruling BJP did not offer any official comment immediately while the Ministry of Defence said in a tweet that it is verifying the "Hollande's statement that GOI insisted upon a particular firm as offset partner for the Dassault Aviation in Rafale".

"It is reiterated that neither the government of India nor the French government had any say in the commercial decision," it added.

BJP MP Subramanian Swamy said, "This is serious, if accurately reported.”

The Communist Party of India (Marxist) general secretary Sitaram Yachury accused the government of lying and misleading people.

"This Rafale deal is a scam if there was one. The Modi govt has lied and misled Indians. The whole truth must come out now. Why was the Indian government batting for one corporate house with no experience in defence manufacture?" Yechury tweeted.

In a swipe at Modi, AAP leader and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal asked the prime minister to come clean.

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.

Also read: Rafale Deal: Congress Demands Early Report On ‘Irregularities’ From CAG