France has said it is “in no manner” involved in choosing industrial partners in India for projects by French companies. The statement by the French Ministry for Europe and Foreign Affairs on Friday said Paris’ only obligation in the Rafale jet deal was to ensure delivery of the aircraft to India and their quality.
The statement follows a similar claim by former President François Hollande with reference to French firm Dassault Aviation’s choice of Anil Ambani’s company to carry out the offset obligations in the Rafale deal. Hollande said his government “did not have a say” in the choice and that it was India that proposed the name of Ambani’s Reliance Defence, reported Mediapart. The Rafale deal was agreed upon when Hollande was president.
After the news report, the Opposition in India targeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi, with Congress President Rahul Gandhi accusing him of betraying India.
In its statement, the French ministry said: “In accordance with India’s acquisition procedure, French companies have the full freedom to choose the Indian partner companies that they consider to be the most relevant, then present for the Indian government’s approval the offsets projects that they wish to execute in India with these local partners so as to fulfil their obligations in this regard.”
In a separate statement, Dassault Aviation said that Reliance Defence was its own choice.
The Indian government has claimed all along that it did not have anything to do with the choice of Ambani’s company. The Opposition 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”.
Soon after reports of the interview with Hollande were published, the spokesperson of the Indian Ministry of Defence posted a tweet saying the Mediapart article is “being verified” and reiterated that neither India nor France had any say in the commercial decision.
The deal between India and France was signed in September 2016, under which New Delhi would procure 36 Rafale aircraft worth Rs 59,000 crore from Paris. Later that year, Reliance Defence joined the offset programme of the Rafale deal through Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd, in which it holds a 51% stake. Dassault Aviation, which manufactured the jets, owns 49%. Reliance and Dassault announced a joint venture in India in October 2016.