Union Minister of Finance Arun Jaitley on Sunday said allegations about irregularities in the Rafale deal will not impact the agreement, ANI reported. In an interview with the news agency, the Union minister criticised Congress President Rahul Gandhi and former French President Francois Hollande for their comments on the deal.
In a Facebook post, Jaitley also questioned the credibility of the Congress party’s allegations of corruption by citing a tweet that he said was posted by Rahul Gandhi on August 30. “For the Congress Party to allege that a former president had been bribed by an Indian business group and then use him as a primary witness, particularly when he is facing criticism for an alleged conflict of interest within his own country.”
On Friday, a French media outlet quoted Hollande as saying that his government “did not have a say” in choosing Anil Ambani’s company Reliance Defence for the Rafale deal. The former French president claimed the Indian government had proposed Reliance Defence’s name for the pact, which was agreed upon when he was president. India’s Ministry of Defence, the French government and defence firm Dassault Aviation, which manufactures the jets, have contradicted his claim.
Jaitley said attempts were being made to create a controversy on the basis of Hollande’s statement. He claimed that Hollande had contradicted himself. “In a subsequent statement, the former president has sought to suggest that Reliance Defence emerged on the scene after the agreement with the Indian Government was entered into,” Jaitley wrote. “He has, in a subsequent statement, said that he is ‘not aware’ if government ever lobbied for Reliance Defence and that ‘the partners chose themselves’. Truth cannot have two versions.”
The finance minister said the French government and Dassault Aviation have denied Hollande’s first statement. “The French government has stated that the decision with regard to the offset contracts of Dassault Aviation are taken by the company and not the government,” Jaitley said. “Dassault Aviation itself has suggested that they have entered into multiple contracts with several public sector and private sector companies....and the decision is entirely theirs.”
Jaitley also rebuked Gandhi for making an “absurd suggestion that the interest of Indian soldiers has been compromised with”. The union minister said, “By whom? The [Congress-led] United Progressive Alliance which delayed the acquisition which would have added to the military’s combat ability or the [Bharatiya Janata Party-led] National Democratic Alliance which expedited the same at a lower cost?”
Since Saturday, several Bharatiya Janata Party leaders including Home Minister Rajnath Singh and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman have refuted allegations made by the Congress against the Narendra Modi-led administration. Gandhi had accused Modi of being corrupt.
In 2012, the United Progressive Alliance government started negotiating with Dassault to buy 126 Medium Multi-Rule Combat Aircraft. According to the negotiations back then, Dassault was to supply 18 Rafale jets in fly-away condition, while HAL, along with the company, was to manufacture 108 aircraft in India. However, the deal did not work out.
India agreed to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft worth Rs 59,000 crore from France after signing the deal in September 2016. Later that year, Reliance Defence joined the deal’s offset programme through Dassault Reliance Aerospace Ltd, in which it holds a 51% stake. Dassault Aviation owns 49% of the joint venture, which was announced in India in October 2016.