Rafale-deal: Hollande's bombshell catches BJP in crossfire, opposition strengthens attack

Leroy Wright
September 22, 2018

Congress president Rahul Gandhi Saturday attacked RSS chief Mohan Bhagwat over his three-day conclave, Future of Bharat: An RSS perspective, that was held in the capital earlier this week.

Francois Hollande was president when Modi visited France and signed an $8.7 billion deal for Dassault Aviation Rafale aircraft in 2016. Ahead of India's 2019 general election, in which Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party will campaign on its pro-poor policies and economic development record, the allegations of impropriety against the government could provide fuel to opposition critiques that the prime minister is too cozy with tycoons.

"The prime minister personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. We didn't have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us". "He has dishonoured the blood of our soldiers", Congress President tweeted.

The Narendra Modi government has repeatedly said it was Dassault that chose its India partner for offsets and that the government had no say in the deal.

So far the French government, which has enormous economic and strategic stakes in letting the Rafale purchase go through smoothly, has remained silent on the Indian government's "nomination" of DRAL as a key offset partner.

The administration of Emmanuel Macron and Dassault both issued statements after Hollande's comments saying the choice of Reliance Group was made by Dassault.

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For that, the French firm picked Reliance and not Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, the state-run giant that has been producing planes for decades, a lot of them Russian under license.

The French government and Dassault Aviation have contradicted former President Francois Hollande's claim with regard to selecting the industrial partner from India in the multi-million dollar Rafale jets deal.

Reliance Group companies have sued HT Media Ltd, Mint's publisher, and nine others in the Bombay high court over a 2 October 2014 front-page story that they have disputed. "It is reiterated that neither GoI nor French government had any say in the commercial decision", the Defence ministry spokesperson stated. The BJP didn't react on the fresh revelations in the Rafale deal controversy on which the Union Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman had so far been leading the charge against the Opposition Congress.

The Indian government proposed Reliance Defence, Hollande said, and Dassault - the French company that makes Rafales - negotiated directly with the Indian company. 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. "Shame on you. You betrayed India's soul", Mr Gandhi tweeted this morning.

"This is Dassault Aviation's choice, as (Dassault) CEO Eric Trappier explained in an interview published in MINT newspaper on April 17", the company, which also makes Falcon business planes, said in a statement.

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