The air is thick with conspiracy. Fending off charges of a sweetheart deal—with Anil Ambani’s company bankrolling partner Julie Gayet’s movie venture days before the Rafale contract was signed in 2016—former French President François Hollande kicked off a storm claiming his country had no role in selecting aircraft manufacturer Dassault Aviation’s local partner in India.
“We did not have a say ... we took the interlocutor given to us,” Hollande told investigative website Mediapart. Almost sounding grumpy, he said: “That is why, moreover, this group (Anil Ambani’s Reliance Aviation) did not have to give me any thanks for anything.” A day later, he changed tack, claiming he was unaware of any pressure by India on Dassault to work with Reliance.
While Congress President Rahul Gandhi latched on to the opportunity, trying to stick the corruption mud on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s kurta, calling him a liar, the government’s minders appeared nonplussed on Friday when the story broke. A day later there was full pushback, with both the Emmanuel Macron government in France and Dassault underlining that the choice of Reliance Aviation was made by the aircraft manufacturer alone.
While Rahul has been hammering away on Rafale for some time now, many of his opposition partners curiously don’t appear to share his enthusiasm. Even those who aspire to be prime minister in the case of a rag-tag coalition coming to power after the 2019 general elections, like BSP chief Mayawati and West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee, haven’t echoed Rahul’s attempts to make a Bofors scam out of it.
But for Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, no politician of consequence like, say, a Sharad Pawar or a Chandrababu Naidu, has latched on to the opportunity. The lack of a full-throated Opposition attack is also an index of the unity it aspires to forge for the Lok Sabha elections. Though the Opposition appears unsure, Rafale will surely be an election issue in 2019. Till then, the perception battle will go on unabated.