Won't scrap Rafale deal, Hollande's initial statement questionable: Jaitley

Finance Minister Arun Jaitley
Finance Minister (FM) Arun Jaitley on Sunday said former French president François Hollande’s initial statement on the Rafale fighter jet deal was “highly questionable”, lacked credibility, and made with the sole purpose of stoking controversy.

He said Hollande’s statement to news agency Agence France-Presse on Saturday contradicted his earlier statement on the subject, and pointed to Congress President Rahul Gandhi’s tweet of August 30 to suggest the entire episode was orchestrated to malign the Narendra Modi government.

Jaitley said Hollande had initially stated that Dassault Aviation entered into a partnership with Reliance Defence at the suggestion of the Indian government, but contradicted it later. The FM interpreted the former French president’s second statement to mean that neither of the governments had any role in the selection of Reliance Defence.

In a statement issued to the media on Sunday afternoon, Jaitley said Reliance Group (of industrialist Mukesh Ambani) was a part of the Rafale deal since 2012, but dropped out of defence production, and the other Reliance Group (of industrialist Anil Ambani) was already in defence.

He said the Reliance groups are not partners in the Rafale deal. He said they have no contract with either the Government of India or the Government of France. Dassault and Reliance selected themselves, Jaitley said. The FM said Hollande has admitted to as much in his second statement.

“Koi prashna nahi uthta. Ye fauj ki avashaktya hai. Ye desh mei ana chahiye, aur ye ayega. (No question of scrapping the deal. These (jet fighters) are needed by the defence forces. They should come and they will come),” Jaitley said, when asked whether the government could cancel the deal in view of the forthcoming general elections in 2019.

In reply, Gandhi tweeted: “Mr. Jetlie’s specialty is his ability to spin two truths, or lies, with fake righteousness and indignation to defend the indefensible. It is high time, he, the defence minister, and our Prime Minister stop lying and call a JPC (joint parliamentary committee) probe to establish the full, uncorrupted truth about the Rafale scam” (sic).

Prime Minister (PM) Narendra Modi addressed a public rally in Jharkhand to launch his government’s ambitious health insurance scheme, while Bharatiya Janata Party chief Amit Shah addressed a public rally in Delhi. Neither of them referred to the Rafale controversy in their respective speeches.

At a press conference, Congress spokesperson Anand Sharma said the PM should answer how the information that he was going to Paris in April 2015 to reverse the deal came to be known to an industrialist. He said Modi reversed the intergovernmental purchase of 36 jets instead of 126 negotiated during the United Progressive Alliance government’s tenure. Sharma said the PM violated the oath of secrecy, and only he could have revealed to the private company that he would reverse the deal, and pointed to the incorporation of Reliance Defence days before the deal. “It’s a conspiracy. Only one (Modi) person with the 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,” Sharma said.

Jaitley said the French government, Dassault, and the Indian government have denied Hollande’s initial statement. “The French government has stated that the decision, with regard to the offset contracts of Dassault Aviation, was taken by the company and not the government. Dassault Aviation itself has suggested that they have entered into multiple contracts with several public sector and private sector companies with regard to the offset contracts and the decision is entirely theirs,” the FM said.

Jaitley said it was no coincidence that on August 30, the Congress president had tweeted: “Globalised corruption. This Rafale aircraft really does fly far and fast! It is also going to drop some big bunker buster bombs in the next couple of weeks.”

The FM said Hollande’s first statement rhymes with Gandhi’s prediction.

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