Rafale Deal controversy takes new turn after Francois Hollande claim

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New Delhi : The controversy over Rafale fighter jet deal took a new twist on Friday following former French President Francois Hollande's reported claim that the Indian government suggested a particular private firm for Rafale offset contract, triggering an attack by Congress and other opposition parties who accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of favouring the company.

The Defence Ministry, however, continued to maintain that neither the government of India nor French government had any say in the commercial decision.

The Congress tweeted the English translation of the article done by French website "Mediapart" which carried reported comments of Hollande.

Hollande has been quoted in an article by the French website as claiming that the Indian government had asked the French government to nominate Reliance Defence as its India partner in the Rafale jet offset deal.

"We did not have a say in this," Hollande was quoted by the website as saying. "The Indian government proposed this service group and Dassault negotiated with Ambani."

Party chief Rahul Gandhi said the Rafale deal was doctored "behind closed doors" by Modi.

"The Prime Minister personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to François Hollande, we now know he personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to a bankrupt," Gandhi said in a tweet.

"The Prime Minister has betrayed India. He has dishonoured the blood of our soldiers," he added.

Senior Congress leader P. Chidambaram wondered as to what "new lie" the Modi government would come up with in response to the former French President's claim.

"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," Chidambaram wrote in Twitter.

Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the government was putting national security in peril by "hiding facts" of the Rafale fighter jet deal.

"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?" Kejriwal said.

"Prime Minister, speak the truth. The nation wants to know the truth, whole truth. Everyday, government of India's statements are being proven untrue. People have started suspecting by now that something fishy has been done (in Rafale deal), else why would the government lie day after day," the Delhi Chief Minister added.

Joining the attack, Communist Party of India-Marxist (CPI-M) Secretary General Sitaram Yechury, too, demanded that truth on the deal must come out.

"The Modi government 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 said.

The Defence Ministry said in a tweet, the French media report was being verified.

"The report referring to former French President Mr. Hollande's statement that government of India insisted upon a particular firm as offset partner for the Dassault Aviation in Rafale is being verified."

"It is reiterated that neither government of India nor French government had any say in the commercial decision," it said.

The opposition has been alleging that the Anil Ambani firm was favoured in the offsets contract at the cost of state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL) despite the private firm having no prior experience in aerospace manufacturing.

The deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets from France was announced by Modi in 2015 and signed in 2016. The UPA government was earlier negotiating a deal to procure 126 Rafale jets, with 18 to come in flyaway condition and 108 to be manufactured by HAL under licence.

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.