Prime Minister Narendra Modi along with Former French President Francois Hollande (File)
New Delhi: In the middle of a raging political row over the Rafale deal, former French president Francois Hollande has been quoted as telling a website that the Indian government had proposed Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence as India partner in the 36-fighter jet deal and that France had not been given a choice. Denying the charge, a defence ministry spokesperson tweeted that the report "is being verified" and that "neither GoI (government of India) nor the French Government had any say in the commercial decision." Congress president Rahul Gandhi, who has been attacking the PM over the Rafale deal, tweeted to say "the PM has betrayed India".
Here are the top 10 developments in this big story:
French journal Mediapart quotes Francois 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 report, tweeted by a LeMonde journalist, is set to escalate a massive government-opposition row in the build-up to elections including the 2019 national polls. The opposition alleges crony capitalism in the nomination of Reliance Defence, since the group has no prior experience in aerospace manufacturing.
The Anil Ambani-led group is manufacturing aerospace components as part of the offset component of the Rafale deal. The clause requires Rafale manufacturer Dassault to ensure that business worth around Rs. 30,000 crores is generated for the Indian defence system. Reliance Defence is not making components for the Rafales ordered by India but is building assemblies for Dassault business jets.
The government has repeatedly said it was Dassault that had picked the Anil Ambani group as its India partner and that the government had nothing to do with what was essentially a commercial pact between two private parties.
"The PM personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to Francois 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," Rahul Gandhi tweeted.
Anil Ambani, in a two-page letter in December to Rahul Gandhi - who has been attacking the government over the Rafale deal - had defended his company's credentials: "Not only do we have the necessary experience but we are also the leaders in several important areas of defense manufacture."
Other French companies also need to fulfil their offset obligations in the deal. These companies are Safran, which manufactures the engines of the Rafale, MBDA, which is providing many of the weapon systems and Thales, which manufactures the avionics of the fighter.
Francois Hollande is also facing allegations of crony capitalism in his country. The Indian Express has reported that two days before he came to New Delhi as the Republic Day chief guest and signed a Memorandum of Understanding with Prime Minister Narendra Modi for delivering 36 Rafale aircraft, Anil Ambani's Reliance Entertainment entered into a deal to produce a film with Hollande's partner and actor Julie Gayet.
PM Modi announced the jet deal after talks with President Hollande on April 10, 2015 in Paris. Anil Ambani was part of a business delegation that travelled with PM Modi on that visit.
Another vocal critic of PM Modi, Arvind Kejriwal, tweeted: "By hiding crucial facts on Rafale deal, is Modi government not endangering national security? Former French President's statement directly contradicts what Modi government had been saying so far. Can the country be taken for a ride any further?"