New Delhi: Union finance minister Arun Jaitley on Sunday dismissed as “questionable" the purported remarks of former French President Francois Hollande, who had claimed, according to a report, that aircraft maker Dassault Aviation SA was given no choice, but to partner Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group for making parts of the Falcon and Rafale aircraft in India.
The purchase of the 36 Rafale jets, which are to be inducted into the Indian Air Force from September 2019, has been in the eye of a storm, with the Congress raising questions on the price as well as the selection of the local partner for manufacturing parts.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Saturday had demanded that Prime Minister Narendra Modi come clean on the deal and that a joint parliamentary committee should investigate the matter.
In a Facebook post on Sunday, Jaitley reiterated that neither the Indian nor the French government had a role in Dassault Aviation choosing the local partner. The finance minister said that the Reliance Group and Dassault Aviation were not a party to India’s purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets, which was a government-to-government contract.
“They (Reliance Group company) have no contract with either the government of India or the government of France. They were not selected as one of the many offset partners by any government. ‘The partners (Dassault and Reliance) selected themselves’ as the former president, Hollande, now says. This contradicts his first questionable statement, which the French government and Dassault have also denied."
Jaitley’s comments come in the wake of news reports quoting Hollande on the sidelines of a conference in Montreal on Saturday that he was unaware, whether India put pressure for the Reliance Group to work with Dassault. Jaitley added that Hollande’s second statement in Montreal to a news agency made the veracity of his first statement made to the French journal, Mediapart, more questionable.
The controversy over India’s purchase of the Rafale jets got fresh fuel Friday with Mediapart quoting Hollande as saying that Dassault Aviation was given no choice but to partner Reliance Group for the offset clause in the deal, according to an ANI report.
Later on Friday, Dassault Aviation said its partnership with Reliance Group for making parts of Falcon and Rafale jets was the company’s choice. That statement backed the Indian government’s position that the joint venture between the two groups was the result of a commercial decision between the businesses, and the governments had no role in it.
“The offset contract ensures investment by the original equipment supplier, that is, Dassault Aviation, in India, in as much as they make purchases from Indian companies to the extent of 50% (in this case). The choice of the offset partner under the 2005 offset policy is of M/S Dassault Aviation and they have selected several public and private sector companies to make the supplies," said Jaitley.
The defence ministry, too, made the same argument on Saturday, saying that the Indian government had no role in the selection of the offset partner, which it said was a commercial decision of the original equipment maker.
Reliance Group companies have sued HT Media Ltd, Mint’s publisher, and nine others in Bombay high court over a 2 October 2014 front-page story that they have disputed. HT Media is contesting the case.