Mumbai: The ongoing Rafale fighter jet deal controversy that has sparked a row among political parties in India has created new ripples internationally as well.
The French government reportedly said on Sunday that it feared damage to its relations with India after former French President Francois Hollande stirred controversy about a Rafale fighter jet deal, news agency AFP reported.
Hollande, who left office in May 2017, had on Friday said that the French government’s 2016 deal with India had no say in choosing the Anil Amabani-led Reliance Defence as the offset partner of Dassault Aviation for the manufacture of the Rafale jets.
The Narendra Modi government signed an agreement to buy 36 Rafale jets from Dassault, which later announced that it had decided to partner with Reliance Defence rather than the public defence conglomerate Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd. (HAL).
The statement by the former French president Francois Hollande that Dassault “did not have a say in it” triggered massive slugfest in India, as it strengthened the opposition claims that the Modi government had intervened to favour Anil Ambani at the cost of HAL.
“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 in a interview on Radio J on 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,” Lemoyne said.
Notably, Hollande made the comments to defend himself from accusations of a conflict of interest in the Rafale deal as the Reliance conglomerate had partially financed a film that had been produced by his girlfriend Julie Gayet, in 2016.
The choice of Reliance for a highly strategic contract to upgrade India’s ageing fleet of fighter jets had surprised all as the group had no previous experience in the aeronautics industry.
At a press conference, Congress president Rahul Gandhi attacked the government over the revelation. “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.”
As the controversy grew bigger, Dassault Aviation released a statement saying that the company had chosen to partner with Reliance Defence instead of HAL.
On Sunday, Finance Minister Arun Jailtley said that the deal would not be scrapped due to the allegations and said that the statements by Opposition leaders in France and India could perhaps be “orchestrated.”