In a significant development, a French media report quoted former French president Francois Hollande as purportedly saying that the Indian government proposed Reliance Defence as the partner for Dassault Aviation in the Rs 58,000 crore Rafale jet fighter deal and France did not have a choice.
Reacting to Hollande's remark that is at variance with the stand taken by the Indian government, the defence ministry spokesman said on Friday,"The report referring to former French president Hollande's statement that government of India insisted upon a particular firm as offset partner for the Dassault Aviation in Rafale is being verified."
The spokesperson also said, "It is reiterated that neither the government nor the French government had any say in the commercial decision."
CNBC-TV18 caught up with former finance minister P. Chidambaram and defence analyst Ajai Shukla to discuss the former French president's statement.
Chidambaram said, "This has exposed another lie of the Indian government. In the Rafale deal, we have not got any planes, we have only got a series of lies. This is one more lie which has been exposed by the former French president who should know because he was the other principal along with our Prime Minister who concluded the deal."
"If the French president has said as Le Monde's bureau chief says that they had no choice in the offset partner and the name was given by the Indian government, the question is, why did the Indian government not give the name of HAL? If they wanted to give another name, why didn't they give it along with HAL's name? Why didn't they give a choice of 3 or 4 names? HAL was not proposed by the Indian government and the question I have been asking for the last 2-3 weeks is, HAL is a public sector concern, it has experience in making aircrafts, it was the partner of choice under the UPA government, it had a work share agreement with Dassault. So the first name that the Indian government ought to have proposed to Dassault and to the French government is HAL. If after that they had rejected HAL, then that is a different matter. But did you propose HAL? From what the defence minister has been saying over the last few days, she thinks HAL is incompetent to make aircrafts and certainly they would not have proposed anybody they consider incompetent," Chidambaram added.
Shukla said, "This is a real blow to the BJP's position and its argument that it was making. BJP's argument was that it had not engaged in crony capitalism by putting Anil Ambani forward and by making him get the benefits of being the Indian offset partner. Now, the French president of that time Hollande, who stood next to Narendra Modi, when the Rafale deal was announced has himself said that it was not the French who selected Anil Ambani, it was the government of India who put them forward, that completely knocks the bottom out of this distance that the government was trying to create between itself and Anil Ambani. It also makes Anil Ambani the favoured government nominee, which is not a position that it wants to be in. This is something that the Congress is going to attack greatly. This going to be the key focus of the Congress attack hereafter."