Congress President Rahul Gandhi on Friday accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of betraying the country after former French President François Hollande claimed that he “did not have a say” in choosing Anil Ambani’s defence company for the Rafale deal.
Hollande told a French media organisation that the Indian government had proposed Reliance Defence’s name for the pact, which was agreed upon when he was president.
Modi has “dishonoured the blood of our soldiers”, said Gandhi, accusing him of “personally negotiating and changing the deal behind closed doors”. “Thanks to François Hollande, we now know he personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to a bankrupt Anil Ambani,” the Congress president tweeted.
In a video statement, Congress spokesperson Randeep Singh Surjewala accused Modi of making the defence minister, the finance minister and the law minister lie along with him. “The collusion, conspiracy and complicity of the Modi government in denying a Rs 30,000-crore contract to public sector entity HAL in favour of Modiji’s crony friend has now been exposed,” Surjewala said. “Modi ji, it is now clear that the watchman himself is in the wrong.”
Earlier in the evening, the Congress posted a tweet telling followers that it was “hard to deny the truth” that they have been scammed by the government. The party, which has been leading the charge against the government on the matter, even posted an English translation of the interview Hollande gave to Mediapart. The party said Hollande’s claims have exposed “the web of lies spun” by the Narendra Modi government.
Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal said the government was endangering national security by hiding crucial facts on the deal. “Can the country be taken for a ride any further?” he tweeted. In another tweet, he said the report was shocking and asked the prime minister about his alleged ties with Ambani.
“Truth has a way of coming out,” said Congress MP Jyotiraditya Scindia. “When will the government stop misleading us and come clean on the Rafale deal?”
Senior Congress leader and former Finance Minister P Chidambaram said the country had got “no aircraft, only lies”. “What is the new lie that the government will put out in response to Mr Hollande?” he asked.
Communist Party of India (Marxist) General Secretary Sitaram Yechury said the Rafale deal was a “scam if there was one”, and accused the government of lying and misleading citizens. “The whole truth must come out now,” he said. “Why was the Indian government batting for one corporate house with no experience in defence manufacture?”
On September 23, 2016, India and France signed a deal for 36 Rafale aircraft worth Rs 59,000 crore. Later that year, Ambani’s Reliance Defence joined the offset programme of the Rafale deal through Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd, a joint venture set up in India in October 2016. Reliance holds a 51% stake while Dassault Aviation, which manufactures the jets, owns 49%.
The Indian government has claimed till now that it did not have anything to do with the French company’s decision to work with Reliance Defence.
The Opposition, led by Congress President Rahul Gandhi, has however claimed that an earlier deal, which envisioned Dassault working with Indian state manufacturer Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, was scrapped to “benefit Modi’s industrialist friend”. The Centre has claimed that it had no role in the deal between Dassault Aviation and Reliance, a point that Ambani has also made.
Soon after reports of the interview with Hollande were published, the spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of Defence posted a tweet saying the news article is “being verified” and reiterated that neither the Indian nor the French government had any say in the commercial decision.
In the Mediapart interview, Hollande spoke about the deal, saying that he had negotiated with two different Indian prime ministers for the deal, referring to former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Modi. He pointed out that the initial plan was for India to buy 126 jets, but once the government changed the deal was for 36 aircraft. “But the manufacturing would happen in France, unlike in the older deal, so we lost one thing, and gained another.”