France fears damage after Hollande fans controversy over India arms deal (PTI)
The French government on Sunday expressed fears that the controversy stirred after former president Francois Hollande's claim about Rafale deal may damage its bilateral relations with India. Hollande, who was the French President until May 2017, had on Friday said that French jet manufacturer Dassault Aviation had been given no choice about its local partner in a 2016 deal with the Indian administration.
"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," PTI quoted junior foreign minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne as saying.
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The Narendra Modi had signed a deal with France to buy 36 Rafale jets from Dassault Aviation, which announced afterward it was partnering for the project with a newly launched private defence company rather than India's public defence conglomerate HAL.
Hollande's announcement that Dassault "did not have a say in it" added fuel to claims of Congress president Rahul Gandhi that the Modi government had intervened to help the Indian firm in question.
"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," Lemoyne said in an interview on Radio J.
Hollande made the comments to defend himself from accusations of a conflict of interest because 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 aging fleet of fighter jets had caused surprise at the time because the group had no previous experience in the aeronautics industry.
Hollande's comments were front-page news in Indian newspapers on Saturday and it was the top trending topic on Twitter.
Rahul Gandhi, head of the main opposition Congress party, who is seeking to replace Modi and his rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) in elections next year, went on the offensive.
"An ex-president of France is calling him (the prime minister of India) a thief. It's a question of the dignity of the office of the prime minister," he told a news conference in New Delhi.
(With PTI Inputs)