Amid the ongoing drama over the controversial Rafale deal in India, French President Emmanuel Macron has said the Rafale deal was a “government-to-government” discussion and he was not in power when the multi-billion dollar agreement for 36 fighter jets was signed between India and France.

Addressing a press conference on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly session, Macron was asked if the Indian government had at any point told France or Dassault — the French aerospace major — that they had to accept Reliance as the Indian partner for the Rafale deal.

“I will be very clear. It was a government-to-government discussion and I just want to refer to what Prime Minister (Narendra) Modi very clearly said a few days ago,” Macron, who became French President in May last year, told reporters on Tuesday without elaborating.

“I don’t have any other comment. I was not in charge at that time and I know that we have very clear rules,” he added.

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India had inked an inter-governmental agreement with France in September last year for procurement of 36 Rafale fighter jets at a cost of around Rs 58,000 crore, nearly one- and-half years after Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced the proposal during a visit to Paris. The delivery of the jets is scheduled to begin from September, 2019.

A huge controversy over the Rafale deal has erupted in India after a report in the French media quoted former president Francois Hollande as saying that the selection of the Indian company in the Rafale deal was done at the behest of New Delhi.

Hollande said that the Indian government proposed Reliance Defence as the partner for the French aerospace giant in the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale deal and France did not have a choice.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi on Tuesday continued his charge against Prime Minister Narendra Modi over the multi-crore Dassault Rafale deal.

Speaking to mediapersons, the 48-year-old Congress chief accused the PM of favouring Anil Ambani through the deal.

“The PM had said I am the ‘chowkidar’ (guard) of the nation. So this chowkidar put the money of the youth and the Air Force in the pockets of Anil Ambani, who has a debt of Rs 45,000 crore on him, just like Vijay Mallya has debt,” Gandhi said.

Gandhi alleged that the prime minister took country’s money and awarded it to Anil Ambani.

“The PM looked here, there, everywhere but did not look me in the eye. Why? Because Narendra Modi has stolen the country’s money and given to Anil Ambani,” the Congress chief said.

Read | Rafale: Rahul Gandhi accused PM Modi of ‘theft’; promises ‘justice’ to HAL, IAF

Earlier on Tuesday, Gandhi posted a tweet addressing members of the Indian Air Force (IAF) and Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) assuring that his party, Congress, will “bring justice”.

“To every Air Force officer and Jawan who has served India. To the family of every martyred Indian fighter pilot. To every person who ever worked for HAL. We hear your pain. We understand how you feel. We will bring to justice all those who dishonoured and stole from you,” read his tweet.

Prime Minister Modi had announced the procurement of a batch of 36 Rafale jets after holding talks with then French president Hollande on April 10, 2015 in Paris. The final deal was sealed on September 23, 2016.

The French government has said it was in no manner involved in the choice of Indian industrial partners.

In its statement, Dassault Aviation said the contract for supply of 36 Rafale jets is a government-to-government agreement, adding “It provides for a separate contract in which Dassault Aviation commits to make compensation investments (offsets) in India worth 50 per cent of the value of the purchase.”

The company also said its partnership with Reliance has led to the creation of the Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd (DRAL) joint-venture in February 2017.

(With agency inputs)