India’s main opposition Congress Party piled new pressure on Prime Minister Narendra Modi on Saturday, after fresh evidence of alleged corruption emerged over a multi-billion euro fighter jet procurement deal.
Modi has faced repeated calls to resign over his role in the 2016 purchase of 36 Rafale aircraft from France, which saw the private conglomerate, Reliance Group, picked over a public company as the Indian joint-venture partner.
The Indian leader’s role came under further scrutiny this week when former French President Francois Hollande admitted that Paris didn’t have a say in who India proposed as the service company.
“We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us,” Hollande told the French investigative website Mediapart on Friday.
“It was the Indian government that proposed this service group (Reliance), and Dassault (the French manufacturer) who negotiated with” them, Hollande said.
Reliance financed movie
The former French leader denied any personal conflict of interest over Reliance, which partially financed a film by his girlfriend Julie Gayet in the same year as the jet deal was finalized.
India’s opposition Congress Party leader Rahul Gandhi said Hollande’s comments were further proof that Modi had “betrayed India” in a “clear case of corruption.”
“The PM personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to Francois Hollande, we now know he personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to …Anil Ambani (the billionaire chairman of Reliance Group).”
The government’s decision meant that the state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited lost out on a lucrative joint-venture contract for the new jets, to replace India’s ageing fleet of Russian aircraft.
Dassault ‘free to choose’
Officials in India and France insist Dassault had freely chosen to partner with Reliance for the fighter jet order, despite Ambani having no previous experience in the field of aeronautics.
Indian political parties have been gunning for Modi over the 2016 purchase, estimated to be worth €7.4 billion ($8.7 billion), saying he had overpaid for the planes and had not been transparent.
Under Indian defense procurement rules, a foreign firm must invest at least 30 percent of the contract in India to help it build up its manufacturing base and wean it off imports.
Modi, who stormed to power in 2014 promising to rid India of deep-seated corruption, is under pressure to shore up his political base ahead of a series of state elections this year followed by a national election in 2019.
mm/jm (AFP, AP, dpa, Reuters)