Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Monday called the ongoing row over the Rafale deal a battle of perceptions. “We will fight this battle,” NDTV quoted Sitharaman as saying. “Many of us will be speaking across the country. Facts have to come out.”
The minister said Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s allegations have “international dimensions”. The Opposition party has accused the government of causing a loss to the exchequer and unfairly favouring “businessman friends”.
Earlier in the day, the Congress submitted a memorandum to the Central Vigilance Committee and demanded an investigation into the matter. It had also submitted a memorandum to the Comptroller and Auditor General of India last week.
On September 21, French media outlet Mediapart quoted former French President Francois Hollande as saying that the Indian government proposed the name of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence for an offset contract with Dassault Aviation, which manufactures the jets.
India’s Ministry of Defence has denied that it proposed Reliance Defence’s name while France said it is “in no manner” involved in choosing French companies’ industrial partners for projects in India. In a separate statement, Dassault Aviation said it had chosen Reliance Defence for the project.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley and others in the Bharatiya Janata Party-led central government have also refuted the Opposition party’s allegations. Jaitley said attempts were being made to create a controversy on the basis of Hollande’s statement.
In 2012, the United Progressive Alliance government started negotiating with Dassault to buy 126 Medium Multi-Rule Combat Aircraft. At the time, it was proposed that Dassault would supply 18 Rafale jets in fly-away condition while state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited, along with the company, would manufacture 108 aircraft in India. However, the deal did not work out.
In September 2016, India agreed to purchase 36 Rafale aircraft worth Rs 59,000 crore from France after signing the deal. 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.