Former France President François Hollande’s explosive remarks on the Rafale deal have made it to the front pages of English newspapers in India on Saturday, but the publications did not seem to agree what to focus on – the claim itself or the political reactions that followed. Hollande’s revelation was also eclipsed a bit on most front pages by India-Pakistan ministerial talks at the United Nations General Assembly being called off.

Almost all Hindi newspapers chose to give the story a miss on their front pages.

On Friday, a French media outlet quoted Hollande as saying that his government “did not have a say” in choosing Anil Ambani’s company for the Rafale deal. Hollande claimed it was the Indian government that had proposed the name of Ambani’s Reliance Defence for the pact, which was agreed upon when he was president.

India has said it is verifying the report, while the Congress has accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of “betraying India”.

‘Qui est le clown maintenant?’

The newspaper that gave the story the most prominent space on its front page was The Telegraph, which asked in its headline, in French: “Who is the clown now?” Just a day before Hollande’s claims, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley had called Congress President Rahul Gandhi a “clown prince” for his allegations related to the Rafale deal.

The Telegraph’s front page used pull-quotes to remind readers of various claims made by Cabinet ministers in recent days in their defence of the choice of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence for part of the deal. The caption for a picture of Hollande hugging Prime Minister Narendra Modi read: “Who should we trust, messieurs?”

In their headlines, The Indian Express and The Hindu told readers about the worrisome claim itself, but Hindustan Times and The Times of India instead remarked at the refuelling of the “political tug of war”. The headline in The Indian Express, which put the story on top, read: “Govt denied role but ex-President Hollande says: Indian Govt proposed Reliance, had no choice”.

Hindustan, like its English sister publication, focused on the political slugfest in its headline – the story appeared below the fold on the front page. The part of the story on the front page (it continued on a later page) had only one sentence on Hollande’s claim and devoted the rest of the space to the “Congress getting aggressive”.

Dainik Jagran, the largest Hindi daily, used the headline as a teaser below the masthead, with the story appearing on the 11th page. Amar Ujala placed the story on its 13th page.

Dainik Jagran's third page. The first page had the advertisement of a government scheme.
Dainik Jagran's third page. The first page had the advertisement of a government scheme.