Responding to remarks by former French president Francois Hollande that the Indian government had “proposed” Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence as the offset partner for Dassault Aviation in the Rafale aircraft deal, the French Secretary of State for Foreign Affairs, Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, said Sunday that Hollande’s statements “render no service to France”.
Significantly, Lemoyne, who is equivalent of an Indian Minister of State, did not contradict the remarks made by Hollande in any manner or counter the former president’s allegation that the French “didn’t have a choice” as Ambani’s Reliance Defence “was given to us” by the Indian government as an offset partner for the Rs 59,000-crore deal.
Lemoyne told Radio J in France, “I believe that this small observation made abroad concerning the important relations between France and India does not do anyone any service, and certainly renders no service to France.” He added, “”As one is no longer in office, one is not best placed to reflect on a situation about aspects of the strategic partnership between India and France that have clearly aroused controversy in India.”
Lemoyne was in the opposition when Hollande was the French President from 2012 to 2017, before becoming a minister in President Emmanuel Macron’s Cabinet in 2017. His statement is likely to generate more heat on the Rafale controversy in French politics.
Lemoyne was referring to Hollande’s statement, made on the sidelines of a conference in Montreal on Friday. In response to a question by news agency Agence-France Press (AFP), Hollande said that the name of Reliance Group had appeared as part of a “new formula” in negotiations over the Rafale deal, which was decided by the Modi government after it came to power. Asked if he knew whether India put pressure for the Reliance Group to work with Dassault, Hollande said he was “unaware” and “Dassault alone is capable of answering”, as per AFP.
The former French president only reiterated what he had earlier told French news website Mediapart.fr, “We didn’t have a say in that. It was the Indian government that proposed this service group (Reliance), and Dassault who negotiated with Ambani. We didn’t have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us.”
Hollande’s statement to AFP that Ambani’s Reliance Group was part of a “new formula” after the BJP government came to power in 2014 contradicts the Indian government’s claim that the deal between Dassault and Reliance was a commercial pact between two private parties and the government had nothing to do with it.
In a statement issued on Saturday, wading uncharacteristically into domestic French politics, the Defence Ministry said that, “The reported statement perhaps needs to be seen in its full context — where the French media has raised issues of conflict of interest involving persons close to the former president. His subsequent statements are also relevant in this regard.”
This was a reference to a report in The Indian Express on August 31 that on January 24, 2016, Reliance Entertainment had announced entering into an agreement with Hollande’s partner Julie Gayet’s firm, Rouge International, to jointly produce a French film. Two days later, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hollande had signed an MoU in New Delhi for the purchase of 36 French jets in flyaway condition.
Hollande told Mediapart.fr that he was not aware of the announcement of the film with Gayet during his visit to India as he was busy with matters of the State. According to Mediapart, the film was made on a budget of Euro 10 million, which included promised Indian funding by Reliance Entertainment of Euro 3 million, eventually reduced to Euro 1.6 million. The funding was done through Visvires Capital, an investment fund founded by Ravi Viswanathan, a French citizen of Indian origin and a friend of Ambani.