Downplaying Congress allegations and former French President Francois Hollande's statement that the Indian Government played a role in finalizing Reliance Defence as Dassault Aviation's Offset partner, Finance Minister Arun Jaitley in an interview said that some statements are made to create controversy and these do not have credibility.
The Finance Minister in an interview, exclusive to to ANI added that circumstances and fact prove these statements wrong.
The 16 minute long interaction had Jaitley addressing concerns on wide-ranging questions such as the French president Hollande's claims to Reliance's offset deals.
Here is the video of the interaction:
And here is the full-script of the Q&A:
Question: Let us start with the latest revelation that has come. Former French President Francois Hollande said that the French government had no option but to go with Reliance in the Offsets deal with Dassault. What would be your reaction to this?
Arun Jaitley: It is a highly questionable statement for the reason that it goes contrary to all acquisition procedures. It goes contrary to not only what the government of India is saying, but what the French government is saying and what Dassault themselves are saying. The procedures are, under this contract, the Government of India purchased fully built up and weaponised aircrafts from Dassault in a Government-to-Government agreement. The aircrafts are to be manufactured and weaponised in France. They will come straight to the Indian Air Force (IAF) and will be used by them. Where is the question of Dassault having a partner in India? Partner is for manufacturing or for any other activity relating to these 36 aircrafts (when) you require something to be done in India. There is absolutely nothing to be done in India, except that the Government of India (GoI) purchases them for the IAF. So when the former French President uses the word partnership, I am afraid he doesn't seem to remember what the basics of the contract were.
Now let us come to the next part of the statement. After the purchase is made, under the 2005 policy of GoI created by the UPA government, originally they envisaged that if there is a contract worth X, 30% of X is the investment that the OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) /supplier will make in India, which means he will purchase to the extent of 30% from Indian manufacturers. Not for Rafale or any other particular defence, he can even purchase non-defence items as the investor may require. In this contract, it was raised to 50%. So Dassault has to purchase after the supplies are made, and the supply will start in 2019. So after 2020, Dassault will have to purchase equivalent to 50% of the contract amount from India. Who they purchase from are not partners in the Rafale deal. They are Offset suppliers. Dassault has said they have appointed one dozen Offset suppliers or so from India, both in the private and public sectors. Merely because one company happens to be an Offset supplier, how is that a scandal?
Some statements are made to create controversy and such statements do not have credibility. It is also a fact that circumstances and fact prove these statements wrong
Question: If we go by his (Hollande) statement, his version is that no option was given.
Arun Jaitley: I'm afraid, if you look at the second statement he (Hollande) made on the sidelines of a conference in Montreal, which the AFP has released yesterday, he says, 'I'm not aware of any pressure created by the GoI for this company. Only Dassault can tell you. The partners had selected themselves. The French government was not involved.' But that's correct. Neither the Indian nor French governments are involved. It is for the supplier (Dassault) to select the partner, and they have selected not one but a dozen odd partners, therefore, in the second statement he says he was not aware of any pressure that was brought or any suggestions made. In the second statement, he is contradicting the core of the first statement. Why was the first statement, which is inaccurate and denied by the French government, Dassault and GoI, made? What was the need to make that statement? The only need I can think is he (Hollande) himself is under criticism from some quarters in France, I am not saying there is conflict of interest. For some alleged conflict of interest, the journalist who interviewed him said we are investigating that part, and therefore, it is very easy to get someone off your back and say 'I didn't do this, somebody else must have suggested it.' The interview must be understood in this context, and when the same gentleman gives two versions within a period of 24 hours -- one version is we had no option and the second version is 'I am not aware if pressure was brought, go ask Dassault. The partners selected themselves,' obviously, truth never has two versions.
Question: Now out of these two statements, the Congress is going to believe the earlier one, where he (Hollande) said they had no option.
Arun Jaitley: Congress can believe anything. Men can believe anything, but you must remember a basic principle of conduct, which for centuries has ruled throughout the world. Which is 'Men may state inaccurate facts, circumstances never lie.' What are the circumstances? In 2012, the UPA government had selected the same Rafale from Dassault. Before the minister could sign it, they decided to abandon it. There are two Reliances in the country today. At that stage, one Reliance entered into an MoU in 2012 February for Rafale with Dassault. Was it a scandal? Obviously not. Because, anyone would say if you are going to manufacture in India, I would like to be the Offset contractor or supplier. Many Indian businesses in the public or private sectors would be. It is not a crime for any company to be party to the contract. When they came back in 2014, the 2012 Reliance was no longer in defence; the other Reliance was. This time they showed interest, so there's been a background to this. And then, they are not interested in manufacture of Rafale aircraft, because none is going to be manufactured in India under the 2016 contract. Readymade aircrafts are going to come in; they are only going to be Offset suppliers. I pity Rahul Gandhi's understanding -- how is it a scandal if a dozen Indian companies in the private and public sector say, that if for a Rs 56,000 cr contract, if the Offsets are going to be 28,000cr, I want to be among the 20 people who are going to make Offset supplies? Everyone will get Rs 2000-4000cr. How is it impropriety?
Question: Talking about the press conference that Rahul Gandhi did yesterday, where he made a direct attack at the Prime Minister. What do you have to say?
Arun Jaitley: The UPA government in the ten years from 2004-2014 was unquestionably the most corrupt government in this country. They went out. Besides the UPA government, there was a whole background in the 1980s where serious evidence came that money in the Bofors deal went into Swiss accounts. People close to the Gandhi family, Mr Quattrocchi, was one of the beneficiaries of one of the accounts. Therefore, serious allegations were raised at that stage. Without getting further into that, I think he is in some kind of a revenge mode. We were called corrupt and you brought in evidence. Today, even if there is no evidence, even if it is a Government-to-Government deal, I have no evidence of any money being paid. And mind you, I won't be surprised if the who thing is being orchestrated. On August 30, why did he tweet 'Just wait for a while, some bombs are going to be burst in Paris'? And then what happens is in perfect rhythm with what he predicted. The former French President is contradicted by the French Government and Dassault, and the next day he goes and contradicts himself.
Question: What is this allegation? Are you saying Rahul Gandhi and Hollande are linked with each other?
Arun Jaitley: I don't know. But I see a perfect coincidence in the rhythm between his tweet on August 30 and what happens when a statement is made which is found to be inaccurate and, therefore, the next day itself, Mr Hollande goes and starts backtracking it.
Question: So are you saying that the Opposition in both countries are in cahoots with each other?
Arun Jaitley: No, I am not saying this. This is for an industry person like you and others who are working in the field to arrive at their own conclusions.
Question: Let us talk about the level of discourse that it has gone down to. He (Rahul Gandhi) has spoken about the Prime Minister; before this you called him the Clown Prince. Have we bottomed out or are we going further down?
Arun Jaitley: I would have very much appreciated if not only the quality of discourse, but also the quality of idiom reflects some level of intellect. We all make criticism, but that criticism, comment and public discourse is intended to raise the quality of public discourse, in terms of quality, content, turn of phrases and the idiom that you use, so that at least somebody appreciates it. If you are bent upon bringing the level of discourse down to vulgarity -- you hug somebody, you wink at somebody, you repeat a lie 300 times -- what do I call that?
Question: More numbers were thrown in this press conference (on Saturday). Before this, he (Rahul Gandhi) had also tweeted saying this was a Surgical Strike of Rs 1,30,000 Cr that the PM had done. This is right after Hollande's statement.
Arun Jaitley: It is a highly objectionable statement. Surgical Strike is something India must be proud of. Your patriotism is questionable if you are ashamed of it and refer to it in a derogatory manner. The Surgical Strike was when the GoI and Indian Army had the courage and professionalism to carry out a near perfect operation by crossing the border and destroying the terrorist camps. Is it something for the Congress party to be ashamed of and refer to in a derogatory manner? What is not compromising the national security of the country and the Army says that you need an aircraft with weaponised ability to target from a distance. We need the combat ability of the Indian Air Force (IAF) to be increased. The IAF has been crying since 2001. You waste ten years and then abandon the deal. If he wanted to use the word surgical strike, he should have used it then. To expedite something which is in the security requirement of the country can hardly be referred in derogatory manner.
Question: To speak further on numbers, in the presser, Rahul Gandhi said UPA negotiated a Rs 526cr per jet deal, which had ballooned to approx Rs 1600cr under the NDA. Finally, what are the numbers Mr Jaitley? If we had gone with this Rs 526 crore per jet deal sanctioned by the UPA, with the add-ons, when you compare it to the 2016-17 deal, what is the price difference?
Arun Jaitley: As I said in an interview to ANI last time, if you were in kindergarten, this logic would make sense. Does he not understand what I explained last time? Take the 2007 offer of Rafale. To this you add till 2016 the escalation which was inbuilt into the clause. You add the exchange rate variation. The NDA deal for a basic aircraft becomes 9% cheaper than the 2007 offer. A bare aircraft is only a flying instrument with one pilot. It is of no surgical use. It is only when it is weaponised that it becomes an armed equipment for a surgical use to strike a target. Fortunately, there is pricing, and for security interest, that pricing can't be disclosed in detail. But I have come as close to this. If you take a weaponised aircraft as of 2007, add the same two things to it again and bring it to 2016 level, 2016 level is 20% cheaper. Now the CAG will go into pricing. They may not eventually disclose it, but about being 9% and 20% cheaper or not, they are looking into it. Congress has submitted a memorandum. The truth will come out.
Question: Talking about the Secrecy Clause. This too was brought up in the press conference. He (Rahul) met (Emmanuel) Macron (French President). Anand Sharma, former Prime Mminister Dr Manmohan Singh were there.
Arun Jaitley: The French Government has contradicted each one of them. Mr Antony and Dr Manmohan Singh, who were privy to the transaction, at least should have not gone off to sleep in that meeting and should have come up and said that we know we signed the Secrecy Clause. The Clause bears the signatures of Mr AK Antony. (Defence Minister) Nirmala Sitharaman produced it in the Parliament. The French Government officially made a statement saying there is a Secrecy Clause, but I am afraid the Congress heard it otherwise.
Question: Looking back, this happens to be completely vitiated by back and forth allegations.
Arun Jaitley: It is vitiated by falsehood, not by allegations.
Question: Are we in any danger of this agreement being scrapped? Are these jets coming to India?
Arun Jaitley: These jets are coming to India. They will enhance the combat ability of the IAF. By allegations, you don't prove anything. I wrote recently that all NPAs (Non Performing Assets) were created during the Congress period, they just concealed the NPAs. But if you make a false statement saying Mr Modi is responsible even though we created them, falsehood doesn't change the facts.
Question: With constant attacks being made on the Prime Minister, why isn't he coming clean? Why doesn't he speak on the Rafale deal and end all this criticism once for all?
Arun Jaitley: Let me tell you, those who are to speak have spoken. Merely because somebody can resort to untruths and vulgarity is no reason for the PM to participate in a debate of this kind. The facts which could be put in public domain have been put in public domain. I am putting forward further facts in public domain through you.
Question: This is going to be an election issue up to 2019.
Arun Jaitley: The election issue is only going to be one in the country -- Do you want Mr Modi to continue or do you want a chaotic combination without a program to be there?
Question: Do you think NDA's anti-corruption image is being tarnished?
Arun Jaitley: That is the strategy, but the strategists must remember that people of India are wiser than them.