France Rafale Fighter Jet
France Rafale Fighter Jet

PARIS: The French government said on Sunday it feared damage to its relations with India after former president Francois Hollande’s claims on the Rafale jet deal stirred a controversy.

Hollande, who left office in May last year, said on Friday that French jet manufacturer Dassault Aviation had been given no choice about its local partner in the 2016 deal with the Indian government.

Modi government had agreed to buy 36 Rafale jets from Dassault, which announced afterwards it was partnering for the project with businessman Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence rather than state-run HAL.

Hollande’s announcement that Dassault “did not have a say in it”+ added fuel to claims from opposition parties that government had intervened to help Anil Ambani.

“I find these remarks made overseas, which concern important international relations between France and India, do not help anyone and above all do not help France,” junior foreign minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne said on Sunday about Hollande.

“Because one is no longer in office, causing damage to a strategic partnership between India and France by making remarks that clearly cause controversy in India is really not appropriate,” he said in an interview on Radio J.

Hollande made the comments to defend himself from accusations of a conflict of interest because Anil Ambani’s Reliance conglomerate had partially financed a film produced by his girlfriend, Julie Gayet, in 2016.

The choice of Reliance for a highly strategic contract to upgrade India’s ageing fleet of fighter jets had caused surprise at the time because the group had no previous experience in the aeronautics industry.

Congress president Rahul Gandhi went on the offensive+ yesterday as he urged Prime Minister Modi to clear his stand on the issue.

“An ex-president of France is calling him (Modi) a thief. It’s a question of the dignity of the office of the prime minister,” he said during a press conference.