The French government said on Sunday that it feared damage to its relations with India after former president Francois Hollande stirred controversy about the Rafale fighter jet deal with India.
Hollande, who left office in May last year, said on Friday during a trip to India that French jet manufacturer Dassault Aviation had been given no choice about its local partner in a 2016 deal with the Indian administration.
The Narendra Modi government agreed to buy 36 Rafale jets from Dassault, which announced afterward it was partnering for the project with billionaire Anil Ambani rather than India’s public defence conglomerate HAL.
Hollande’s announcement that Dassault “did not have a say in it” added fuel to claims from India’s opposition that the New Delhi government had intervened to help Ambani, who is a supporter of Modi and hails from the same state as him.
“I find these remarks made overseas, which concern important international relations between France and India, do not help anyone and above all do not help France,” junior foreign minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said Sunday about Hollande.
“Because one is no longer in office, causing damage to a strategic partnership between India and France by making remarks that clearly cause controversy in India is really not appropriate,” he said in an interview on Radio J.
Hollande made the comments to defend himself from accusations of a conflict of interest because Ambani’s Reliance conglomerate had partially financed a film produced by his girlfriend, Julie Gayet, in 2016.
Hours after Hollande claimed that the Indian government suggested a particular private firm for Rafale offset contract, the French government issued a statement late Friday.
“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,” the statement read.
Earlier on Sunday, the French journalist who had interviewed Hollande reiterated that Hollande told him he had no choice in the selection of Reliance Defence. Talking to Times Now, Antton Rouget said Hollande told him it was the Indian government that had proposed the name of Reliance.
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.
Congress president Rahul Gandhi went on the offensive. He attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi after the reports of French media and said that the PM Modi personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors.
“An ex-president of France is calling him (the prime minister of India) a thief. It’s a question of the dignity of the office of the prime minister,” he told a news conference in New Delhi.
(With agency inputs)