Arun Jaitley Image Credit: PTI

New Delhi: Indian Finance Minister Arun Jaitley on Sunday said former French President Francois Hollande contradicted his own statement with regard to the Rafale deal and that neither the Indian nor French government played any role in selection of Reliance as offset partner by Dassault.

A political controversy has erupted over Hollande’s statement that the Indian government wanted the Anil Ambani-led Reliance Defence to be chosen as offset partner of Dassault, the manufacturer of the Rafale fighter jets.

“The French government and M/s Dassault Aviation have categorically denied the correctness of the former President’s first statement. The French government has stated that the decision with regard to the offset contracts of Dassault Aviation were taken by the company and not the government,” Jaitley said in a Facebook post.

“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,” he added.

The partners (Dassault and Reliance) selected themselves as former President Hollande now says, Jaitley said in the post titled ‘A Questionable Statement Which Circumstances & Facts Demolish’.

“This contradicts his first questionable statement which the French government and Dassault have denied. The facts contradict the same. His second statement in Montreal, Canada to AFP (news agency) makes the veracity of his first statement even more questionable,” the minister said.

AFP reported that Hollande made the statement on the sidelines of a meeting in Canada Friday 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”.

Meanwhile, describing Prime Minister Narendra Modi as a symbol of honesty after Congress president Rahul Gandhi threw the “thief” barb at him, the BJP Saturday rejected former French president Francois Hollande’s sensational claim on the Rafale deal, saying it does not know under what compulsion he said so.

Bharatiya Janata Party leader and Law Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad also said that Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of the fighter aircraft, and Reliance had entered into an agreement as early as 2012 when the Congress-led UPA was in power as he refuted the allegation that the Modi government had favoured the Anil Ambani-led company.

Ruling out Gandhi’s demand for a joint parliamentary committee probe into the deal, he told a press conference that it cannot be done merely to satisfy the ego of “an arrogant and ill-informed leader repeating lies after lies”.

Prasad also cited statements of the French government and Dassault in which they said Indian and French dispensations had no role in picking the offset partner of the private company, to brush aside the charge of corruption.

He sought to discredit the claim of Hollande, who had said that the Indian government has proposed Reliance as an offset partner, saying that French journalists have spoken about his “conflict of interests”. It is none of our concern, he then added.

The BJP leader raked up a number of cases of alleged corruption involving the Gandhi family to launch a stinging attack on the Congress president, saying his family is the “source of corruption” in the country.

No prime minister of India has been spoken of in a manner Gandhi did about Modi, he said, terming his comments as “irresponsible and shameful” and that he had painted his face black with such remarks.

“We cannot expect anything better from Gandhi. He has no quality, no capability and whatever he is he owes to his family. Modi is a symbol of honesty and a global leader,” Prasad said, claiming that doors for middlemen and power brokers have been shut under his government.

He said the UPA government terminated negotiations with Dassault after a contract negotiation committee had chosen it as the lowest bidder in 2012 following years of process because the company did not pay it “bribe”.

There was pressure on the company for “extraneous considerations”, he said, adding that Modi decided to go ahead with the Rafale deal after coming to power in May 2014 as Indian Air Force needed fighter aircraft urgently and the entire exercise had been dragging on for several years.

He also alleged that Gandhi was “helping” Pakistan and had been playing into the hands of India’s “enemies”, by demanding that the government reveal full price details of the deal.

He said Gandhi and his mother Sonia Gandhi are on bail in a case of corruption, a reference to the National Herald matter, and alleged that his family had taken bribe in the Bofors case.

The country cannot expect any better from a leader who kept quiet while his brother-in-law looted land, Prasad said, in a reference to cases involving Robert Vadra.

Prasad reiterated the government’s claim the basic price of Rafale negotiated by it was nine per cent cheaper than what the UPA had agreed to while its fully weaponised version was 20 per cent cheaper.

The Indian private company was then led by Mukesh Ambani. Anil Ambani is his younger brother. Whatever happened between the two brothers is their matter, he said.