Rafale Deal: France had earlier in a statement said it was not involved in picking the Indian partner

NEW YORK: French President Emmanuel Macron today avoided giving a direct answer on the raging Rafale deal controversy, and said he was not in charge when the multi-million dollar deal for 36 aircraft was signed between India and France.

While interacting with the press on the sidelines of the United Nations General Assembly, Mr Macron was asked by NDTV whether the government of India had proposed to the French government or Rafale's manufacturer Dassault to pick Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence as the India partner, as claimed by former French president Francois Hollande.

Mr Macron, in his response, did not deny the charges directly. "I was not in charge at that time but I know that we have very clear rules and this is a government-to-government discussion and this contract is part of a broader framework which is a military and defence coalition between India and France."

"I just want to refer to what Prime Minister Modi said a few days ago," he added, without elaborating further.

Mr Macron was elected the president of France in May last year. The Rafale jet deal was announced by PM Narendra Modi in 2016 when Francois Hollande was the French president.

Mr Hollande had dropped a bombshell last week by saying France had been given no choice on picking Anil Ambani's company as Dassault's offset partner in 2016. He made the comment while denying in an interview any conflict of interest with Reliance, which partly financed a film produced by his partner, Julie Gayet, in 2016.

Both the French government and Dassault have denied the allegations.

However, Mr Hollande's statement has provided much fodder to the opposition parties in India, with the Congress accusing the government of choosing Reliance Defence over state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd to benefit the private firm though it did not have any experience in the aerospace sector.

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. Reliance Defence is not making components for the Rafales ordered by India but is building assemblies for Dassault business jets.