New Delhi: Hours after former French president Francois Hollande claimed that Indian government had proposed Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence as the India partner in the Rafale fighter jet deal and not given them a choice, the French government denied the claim and asserted that French companies have the full freedom to select Indian firms for the contract.
In a statement, the French government said it was not involved in any manner in the choice of Indian industrial partners for the Rafale deal, adding that its role was limited to just ensuring the delivery and quality of the war planes.
The statement came after a French media report quoted Hollande as saying that the Indian government proposed Anil Ambani’s firm as the partner for Dassault Aviation in the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal. "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," it said.
The report in 'Mediapart', a French language publication, quoted Hollande as saying, "It was the Indian government that proposed this service group, and Dassault which negotiated with Ambani. We had no choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us."
Asked who selected the Anil Ambani firm as a partner and why, Hollande replied, "We had no say in this regard."
Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale, had chosen Anil Ambani’s firm as its partner to fulfill offset obligations of the deal. The government has been maintaining it did not have any role in selection of the offset partner by Dassault.
Hollande’s remarks escalated the massive government-opposition showdown over the military aircraft deal in the run up to the next year’s election as it gave Congress more ammunition to attack the NDA on its charge of crony capitalism in the contract.
Congress chief Rahul Gandhi on Friday tweeted to say that "the PM has betrayed India and has dishonoured the blood of our soldiers".
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.
In a statement, Dassault Aviation said it decided to make a partnership with the company in accordance with the policy of 'Make in India' and the decision was purely its own.
"This partnership has led to the creation of the Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL) joint-venture in February 2017. Dassault Aviation and Reliance Defence have built a plant in Nagpur for manufacturing parts for Falcon and Rafale aircraft," the company said.
The French government said, "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."
The Congress has been accusing massive irregularities in the deal, alleging that the government was procuring each aircraft at a cost of over Rs 1,670 crore as against Rs 526 crore finalised by the UPA government when it was negotiating procurement of 126 Rafale jets.
The Congress has also alleged that the government was benefitting Anil Ambani through the deal as the company has set up a joint venture with Dassault Aviation to execute the offset obligation for the deal.
The opposition parties have also said the Anil Ambani set up Reliance Defence just 12 days before the announcement of the Rafale deal by the Prime Minister on 10 April 2015. Anil Ambani has rejected the charges.
The Congress has also been demanding answers from the government on why state-run aerospace major HAL was not involved in the deal as finalised during the UPA.