Centre red-faced after former French president Francois Hollande's remark on Rafale deal; Opposition seizes opportunity to slam government

In an interview to a French media house, Hollande on a question about who selected Reliance as a partner and why, said it was the Indian government that proposed Reliance's name and Dassault had no choice but to take the company given to it.

Centre red-faced after former French president Francois Hollande's remark on Rafale deal; Opposition seizes opportunity to slam government

New Delhi: The controversy over the ongoing Rafale deal took a new direction when former French president Francois Hollande said that Dassault Aviation was given no choice but to partner with Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence for the offset clause in the Rafale fighter jet deal.

In an interview to a French media house, Hollande on a question about who selected Reliance as a partner and why, said it was the Indian government that proposed Reliance's name and Dassault had no choice but to take the company given to it, as reported by news agency ANI.

Quoting an article, published by French journal Mediapart, ANI reported, "We did not have a say in that. The Indian government proposed this service group, and Dassault negotiated with Ambani. We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor we were given," said Hollande. The interview was published in French and excerpts of Hollande's interview were tweeted by French Newspaper LeMonde journalist Julien Boissou.

Hollande's reported statement contradicts Indian government's claim that the agreement between Dassault and Reliance was a commercial pact between two private parties and the government had nothing to do with it.

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.

Congress chief Rahul Gandhi led a blistering opposition attack on PM Modi accusing him of betraying India and dishonouring its soldiers. Rahul Gandhi tweeted, "The PM personally negotiated & changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to Fran?ois 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."

"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 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".

Congress' chief spokesperson Randeep Surjewala alleged that Modi "hid behind the smokescreen of web of lies that he had weaved". "Truth always prevails. Congress President Rahul Gandhi asked the Prime Minister in Parliament to look him into his eye and tell the truth. Prime Minister Narendra Modi did not dare to look straight. PM Modi looked away," he said. 

He alleged that not only did the prime minister lie, but he made the defence minister, the finance minister and the law minister lie along with him.
"The collusion, the conspiracy and the complicity of the Modi government in denying a Rs 30,000 crore contract to public sector undertaking HAL in favour of Modi ji's crony friend has now been exposed by the former French President.

"Truth is now out in the open for everyone to see and adjudge. It is now clear that chowkidar hi gunahgar hai (the watchman is the culprit)," Surjewala said

Congress leader Manish Tewari said, "President (Former) Francois Hollande should also enlighten us how the price went up from 590 crores in 2012 to 1690 crores in 2015 per Rafale fighter jet? Escalation of a mere 1100 crores. I am sure the Euro equivalent would not be a problem to calculate."

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. "The country wants to know the truth. Complete truth. Everyday Indian government's comments are turning out to to false. People have started believing that something bad has really happened. Why else the government will lie everyday," he tweeted.

Responding to Congress attacks on the government for keeping Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) out of the Rafale deal under offset clause, both Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have been constantly stressing that Dassault and Reliance got into an agreement on their own.

Former chairman and managaing director (CMD) of HAL, T Suvarna Raju, in an interview to a media house claimed that Dassault and HAL had signed the mutual workshare contract and given it to the government. He further said that the life-cycle costs of the aircraft would have been cheaper if the aircraft were made in India.

However, contradicting this, defence sources on Thursday claimed disagreements between HAL and Dassault Aviation had led to the collapse of negotiations between the two in the Rafale fighter plane deal during the UPA term.

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