Calls for Modi to quit over alleged graft in jet deal

Supporters of India's main opposition Congress Party shout slogans during a protest demanding from government to disclose the details of Rafale fighter planes deal, in Mumbai, India, on July 30, 2018.
Supporters of India's main opposition Congress Party shout slogans during a protest demanding from government to disclose the details of Rafale fighter planes deal, in Mumbai, India, on July 30, 2018.PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI/PARIS • Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is facing calls for his resignation over allegations of corruption in a multi-billion dollar military jet deal with France after former French president Francois Hollande was quoted as saying New Delhi had influenced the choice of a local partner.

Mr Hollande's comments last Friday stoked debate on a subject that has gained significant traction in India in recent weeks, with the opposition Congress party accusing Mr Modi of favouring private conglomerate Reliance Group over a public company in the US$8.7 billion (S$11.9 billion) deal for 36 Rafale warplanes inked in 2016.

India's opposition party alleges Mr Modi gave preferential treatment to industrialist Anil Ambani to the detriment of state-run Hindustan Aeronautics, despite the billionaire chairman of Reliance Group having no previous experience in the field of aeronautics.

"We did not have a say in that," Mr Hollande told investigative website Mediapart. "It was the Indian government that proposed this service group (Reliance), and Dassault who negotiated with Mr Ambani."

"We did not have a choice, we took the interlocutor who was given to us," added Mr Hollande, who was president of France from 2012 to last year.

"The PM personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to Francois Hollande, we now know he (Mr Modi) personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to a bankrupt Anil Ambani," Mr Rahul Gandhi, the president of the main opposition Congress party, said in a tweet.

POINTING FINGERS

The PM personally negotiated and changed the Rafale deal behind closed doors. Thanks to Francois Hollande, we now know he (Mr Narendra Modi) personally delivered a deal worth billions of dollars to a bankrupt Anil Ambani.

MR RAHUL GANDHI, president of India's main opposition Congress party.

Smaller parties also joined in the attack on Mr Modi, who is already under pressure to shore up his political base ahead of a series of state elections this year, followed by a national election next year.

Mr Modi's office did not respond to a request for comment. France's embassy in New Delhi did not comment.

India's Defence Ministry wrote on Twitter that neither the Indian nor French government "had any say in the commercial decision".

The French Foreign Ministry later issued a statement saying "the sole obligations of the French government were to assure delivery and the quality of the equipment".

Dassault denied the report, saying it had picked Reliance as a partner for industrial reasons.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Sunday Times on September 23, 2018, with the headline 'Calls for Modi to quit over alleged graft in jet deal'. Print Edition | Subscribe