Former French president Francois Hollande contradicted his own statement. French government denied any involvement in choice of Indian partners. Dassault said decision was its own to partner with Reliance Group

by Kumar Shakti Shekhar

Rahul Gandhi's attack on Modi government has been neutralised by rebuttals issued by Dassault, French government and Francois Hollande's clarification.

Former French President Francois Hollande last week seemed to have given ammunition to the Congress to hit the ruling BJP over the controversial Rafale deal. Congress president Rahul Gandhi intensified his attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi. However, all the stakeholders involved in the deal have rebutted Rahul Gandhi's allegations.

Francois Hollande, in an interview to Mediapart last week indicated that the partnership between Dassault Aviation, the makers of Rafale aircraft, and Reliance Defence was entered at the behest of the Indian government when he said, "We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us."

Soon after Francois Hollande's statement on September 21, Rahul Gandhi tweeted: "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."

The next day, Rahul Gandhi, in another tweet, alleged that the PM and industrialist Anil Ambani jointly carried out a 130,000 crore surgical strike on the Indian defence forces. "Modiji, you dishonoured the blood of our martyred soldiers. Shame on you. You betrayed India's soul," he added.

However, very soon the tables seem to have turned for Rahul Gandhi.

On September 22, former French President Francois Hollande in a statement to news agency AFP in Montreal, Canada contradicted his earlier remarks over the Rafale deal.

Hollande said Reliance Defence and Dassault Aviation chose each other as offset partners in the Rafale deal and that there was no intervention of any government in choosing offset partner.

This was the first rebuttal and this was followed by two others.

In its statement, Dassault Aviation said, "In accordance with the policy of Make in India, Dassault Aviation has decided to make a partnership with India's Reliance Group. This is Dassault's choice, as CEO Eric Trappier had explained in an interview published on April 17, 2018."

The French government too issued a statement to refute Francois Hollande's earlier statement. It denied any involvement in the choice of Indian industrial partners. It said the French companies have selected or are selecting their Indian counterparts involved in the deal.

"French companies have the full freedom to choose the Indian partner companies that they consider to be the most relevant, and then present for the Indian government's approval the offsets projects that they wish to execute with their local partners," the French government said.

The French government further said, "The inter-governmental agreement signed on September 23, 2016 between the French and Indian governments for supply to India of 36 Rafale aircraft covers only the obligations of the French government to ensure the delivery and quality of the equipment."

The Indian Ministry of Defence too dismissed the controversy as "unnecessary". It stuck to its stand that Dassault Aviation is yet to officially inform it of the different offsets partners in the Rs 59,000-crore contract for 36 Rafale aircraft.

Though Rahul Gandhi sought to highlight Francois Hollande's previous statement that Reliance Defence was involved in the Rafale deal at the behest of the Indian government and that the French government did not have a choice, the former president's rebuttal has taken out the sting from the attack on the Modi government.

The clarifications by Rafale makers Dassault and the French government too have neutralised Rahul Gandhi's attack for now.