'Surgical strike' on defence forces, says Rahul Gandhi
New Delhi: Even as the French government and Dassault Aviation contradicted former President Francois Hollande's claim on choosing of Indian industrial partners in the multi-million dollar Rafale jet deal, the Congress party on Saturday said the French government "conceals more than it reveals". Congress President Rahul Gandhi called it a surgical strike on Indian defence forces.
The statement by the French government issued here by the embassy late on Friday came after Hollande claimed in a media report that the Indian government had suggested a particular private firm for the Rafale offset contract.
Hollande was quoted in an article by a French website Mediapart as saying that the Indian government had asked the French government to nominate Reliance Defence as its India partner in the deal.
"We didn't have any say in this matter," Hollande was quoted by the website as saying. "It is the Indian government which had proposed this service group and Dassault who negotiated with (Anil) Ambani. We didn't have the choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us."
In response to the claim, the Friday night statement said: "The French government is in no manner involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners who have been, are being or will be selected by French companies.
Dassault Aviation, the makers of the Rafale jets, in a statement, also on Friday night, said: "This offsets contract is delivered in compliance with the Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2016 regulations. In this framework, and 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 Aviation's choice."
On Saturday, Rahul Gandhi said in a tweet that the "PM and Anil Ambani jointly carried out a One Hundred & Thirty Thousand 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."
The Congress party said that the the French government knows that verbal interactions between former President Hollande and Indian interlocutors were minuted and would emerge.
"Speculation of French Parliamentary hearing into Rafale and access to administration documents under France's Freedom of Information Law 1978 rife," Congress spokesperson Manish Tiwari tweeted.
"What French government/corporate entity has just ended up doing is making Rafale procurement a veritable domestic issue in French politics also".
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal in a tweet in Hindi sought to know from the Indian Prime Minister who "pocketed the money from the Rafale scam, you the BJP or someone else."
Countering the attack, Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Union Minister Ananth Kumar tweeted: "Nailing the lie on its head -- misinformation about Rafale deal, Dassault being called out by the French government."
The 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.
The Paris-based Dassault Aviation further said in its statement that "in accordance with India's acquisition procedure, French companies have the full freedom to choose their Indian partner companies that they consider to be the most relevant, then present for the Indian government's approval the offset projects that they wish to execute in India with these local partners so as to fulfil their obligations in this regard."
"Dassault Aviation is very proud that the Indian authorities have selected the Rafale fighter," it added stating that the partnership "between the two giants" led to the creation of the Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL) joint venture in February 2017.
The deal to purchase 36 Rafale fighter jets from France was announced by Prime Minister Narendra 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.
Mediapart, whose focus of the story was about financing of a film being co-produced by actress Julie Gayet, who is said to be a "personal partner" of Hollande, for which the Ambani group had provided funds of up to $1.6 million.
It interviewed Hollande on phone in which he further said: "I intervened in this affair (Rafale) with the two prime ministers, to say that I was keen for this negotiation. Initially, the deal was supposed to be for 126 planes, then when the government changed the Indians reformulated their proposition, less attractive for us because it was for 36 aircraft only. But the manufacturing was planned to be in France, contrary to the preceding proposition, we lost on the one hand and gained on the other."