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Monday, Sep 23, 2019

‘Truth can’t have 2 versions’: Arun Jaitley on Francois Hollande’s remarks on Rafale deal

Finance minister Arun Jaitley said former French president Francois Hollande contradicted his own statements on Rafale deal.

india Updated: Sep 23, 2018 23:00 IST
HT Correspondent
HT Correspondent
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley speaks during a press conference, in New Delhi.
Finance Minister Arun Jaitley speaks during a press conference, in New Delhi.(PTI File Photo)
         

Finance minister Arun Jaitley on Sunday questioned “contradictory statements” made by former French President Francois Hollande over India’s purchase of 36 Rafale jets, and said the government had no role in choosing an offset partner for the deal, prompting Congress president Rahul Gandhi to reiterate his demand for a joint parliamentary probe (JPC) into the agreement.

A fresh round of political confrontation began after French investigative website Mediapart on Friday quoted Hollande as saying that the Indian government had proposed the name of Anil Ambani’s Reliance Group as an offset partner in the $8.7 billion deal.

He later insisted to AFP that France “did not choose Reliance in any way”, but said he was unaware if India had asked Dassault to work with the group.

“Truth cannot have two versions,” Jaitley wrote in a Facebook blog on Sunday, a day after Gandhi asked Prime Minister Narendra Modi to clear the air over the deal.

Jaitley said the offset partner was selected by Dassault Aviation and neither the French government nor the Indian government had any say in the matter – the stated position of New Delhi, Paris and the French aviation firm.

The minister said a controversy was being created on the basis of Hollande’s statement.

Hollande said Reliance Defence’s “partnership” with Dassault Aviation was entered at the suggestion of the Indian government.

“It was a government-to-government agreement under which the complete weaponised aircraft are to come to the Indian Air Force. No manufacturing is to be done in India. It is, therefore, erroneous for anybody to suggest that there is a ‘partnership’ in the supply of the 36 Rafale aircraft,” Jaitley wrote.

In an interview to news agency ANI, Jaitley said there appeared to be a ‘jugalbandi’ (collaboration) between remarks made by Hollande and Gandhi. “I am surprised…On August 30, he (Gandhi) tweeted that bombs are going to explode in France (over Rafale deal). How he came to know about that?” he said.

“Though I do not have any proof of this jugalbandi, but this creates suspicion in mind… There is definitely something ... a statement comes (from Hollande), then it is contradicted. But he (Gandhi) predicted this to happen 20 days in advance,” Jaitley added.

The remarks made by the finance minister evoked a sharp reaction by the Congress president. “Mr Jetlie’s speciality is his ability to spin “2 truths”, or lies, with fake self righteousness & indignation to defend the indefensible. It’s high time he, the RM & our PM stop lying and call a JPC to establish the full, uncorrupted truth about the #RafaleScam,” Gandhi tweeted.

The NDA government’s decision to enter into a government-to-government deal with France to buy 36 Rafale warplanes was announced in April, 2015, with the deal signed a little over a year later. This replaced the UPA regime’s decision to buy 126 Rafale aircraft, 108 of which were to be made in India by Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) using parts imported from France.

Jaitley ruled out scrapping the deal to buy the French fighter jets. “There is no question of scrapping the deal. These (jet fighters) are needed by the defence forces. They should come and they will come,” he said when asked by ANI whether the government could consider cancelling the deal ahead of next year’s Lok Sabha elections.

Hours after Jaitley rejected the allegations over the Rafale deal, the Congress accused Prime Minister Modi of violating the oath of secrecy and revealing details of the deal to Anil Ambani’s company.

“The question to the Prime Minister is – how this information came out that he will go to France and reverse the deal?” said Congress spokesperson Sharma, referring to Modi’s April, 2015, announcement of an intergovernmental deal to purchase 36 jets instead of 126 being negotiated during the erstwhile UPA regime.

“It’s a conspiracy, only one (Modi) person with knowledge about the new deal – without telling anyone in the Cabinet, or the Ambassador etc – revealed the details to the industrialist and asked him to form a company,” alleged Sharma.

The ministry of defence has said that “unnecessary controversy” is being created by the Opposition parties over the matter.

The deal has become controversial with the Opposition, led by the Congress, claiming that the price at which India is buying Rafale aircraft now is ?1,670 crore for each, three times the ?526 crore, the initial bid by the company when the UPA was trying to buy the aircraft. It has also claimed the previous deal included a technology transfer agreement with HAL.

The controversy is also regarding the offset deal signed by Dassault with the Reliance Group of Anil Ambani. The Congress claims the earlier deal was scrapped and a new one signed just to provide Ambani this opportunity. Both the government and Reliance have repeatedly denied this.

First Published: Sep 23, 2018 11:17 IST