By Agence France-Presse
Former French president Francois Hollande has fueled controversy over India’s multi-billion-dollar 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale fighter jets, saying that France was given no choice on the Indian partner for manufacturer Dassault.
His comments on Friday stoked debate over a subject which has gained significant traction in India in recent weeks, since the opposition Congress party accused Prime Minister Narendra Modi of favoring a private conglomerate over a public company in the aircraft deal.
The party alleges Modi gave preferential treatment to industrialist Anil Ambani, the billionaire chairman of Reliance Group, to the detriment of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL).
Officials in India and France say Dassault had freely chosen to partner with Reliance, despite Ambani having no previous experience in the aeronautics sector.
“We did not have a say in that,” Hollande told investigative website Mediapart. “It was the Indian government that proposed this service group (Reliance), and Dassault who negotiated with Ambani.
“We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us,” added Hollande, who was president of France from 2012-2017.
French firm Dassault had spent years negotiating a deal for 126 fighter jets to be manufactured in India with HAL, but talks had stalled.
On taking office, the Modi government cancelled the negotiations and decided to directly purchase 36 jets made in France.
Hollande denied any conflict of interest with Reliance, which partially financed a film produced by his girlfriend Julie Gayet in 2016.
“That is why, moreover, this group (Reliance) did not have to give me any thanks for anything. I could not even imagine that there was any connection to a film by Julie Gayet.”
Speaking to AFP on the sidelines of a meeting in Canada on Friday, the former French leader insisted that France “did not choose Reliance in any way”.
When asked whether India had put pressure on Reliance and Dassault to work together, Hollande said he was unaware and “only Dassault can comment on this”.