Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman on Saturday suggested that former French President Francois Hollande may have made the recent remarks on the Rafale deal to evade questions on allegations raised about his associates receiving funds from a company.
During a press meet on Saturday, Sitharaman was asked about Hollande’s remark that Reliance Defence was chosen as offset partner by Dassault Aviation because the Indian government had “proposed” its name.
The minister replied that she would not know if there was any kind of offset-related agreement or understanding between companies.
She said she would know that only when those companies make that claim with bills and other details. “It appears from the media that it is not just one, but there are some 70-80 companies whom Dassault (Aviation) is going with,” she said, asking whether Hollande meant that Dassault had to go with all these 70-80 companies because they were asked to do so.
“I know this matter is now international. It will have an impact on international relations. But here, the former President of France, who himself is — I don’t know whether it is true or not — facing an allegation, it may or may not be true, that his associates have received funds for some purpose…. In such a situation, the (former) President is saying this. Does it mean he just wanted this journalist off his back and therefore he wanted to say something, and he said something different elsewhere later?” Sitharaman said. She added that she will not be in a position to elaborate on that allegation.
The Indian Express had earlier reported that Reliance Entertainment had signed a pact to finance a film by French actor-producer Julie Gayet, partner of Hollande, while India was negotiating the Rafale deal with France, which led to Reliance getting the offset contract from Dassault.
Taking a dig at Rahul Gandhi, Sitharaman said, “Certainly I find it amusing that everything this former President is doing is being predicted by the president of the Congress party here, yes, well in advance. It’s very interesting.”
Asked about the state-owned Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) losing the deal, Sitharaman said that the Congress-led UPA failed HAL compared to what the NDA government has done since 2014.
She said, “We have ensured them (HAL) Rs 20,000 crore worth orders every year from our side. We are giving them orders. The same HAL was given an order for 40 Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) model by UPA. Only eight have been supplied so far.
“We are making efforts to improve their production capacity. After this 40 aircraft, we have given order for 83 LCAs. After they finish it, we have promised that we will order for a much more advanced aircraft. We have also increased their annual production capacity.”