The muck that goes with power back home has starkly been laid bare by former French President Francoise Hollande. The disclosures made by him on September 21 about the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter aircraft by India have set off a bitter political battle, putting the Opposition virtually at the throats of the Government. Congress chief Rahul Gandhi has chided Prime Minister Narendra Modi, saying that Hollande’s claims turned the Prime Minister into a virtual “thief”.
Yet, as the political battle about the murky fighter jet deal rages on amid chances of its getting further escalated what deserves attention is the question: How has a deal that affects Indian interests more badly than those of France because of its obvious seamier side been exposed via Paris rather than its being taken on by New Delhi?
The answer to this question simply lies in the robustness of institutions, including the Press, in mainly France and generally Europe, or the Western world, as compared to their Indian counterparts where media is commonly known to fawn over whatever the Government does and other institutions may well hardly be any better albeit a few honourable exceptions.
A possible conflict of interest was spotted by a French media house in case of its former President because of his partner and companion Julie Gayet who happens to be an actress-cum-producer of French films. This led to Hollande’s disclosure that he had agreed to the Indian Government’s choice of an allegedly inexperienced firm vis-à-vis defence and aerospace manufacturing sectors to take care of the businesses to be set up in India by the French fighter jet manufacturer Dassault under the offset clause of the deal where no less than Rs 30,000 crores were to be invested in India by Dassault in lieu of its purchase of 36 fighter aircraft for about eight billion Euros.
The film connection has been the main bane of French media’s investigations into Rafale deal with India after a report was published in The Indian Express on August 31 to claim that the Indian company that became Dassault’s partner by virtue of the offset clause in the deal had funded a movie co-produced by Gyate. The deal to invest in the French film was struck when Gayet visited Delhi with Hollande in January 2016 as main guests for the Republic Day ceremonies in the capital. A memorandum of understanding to supply 36 Rafale aircraft was also signed by Hollande during the same visit.
The film was released towards the end of last year in France and a few other countries but not in India. This is how Express broke the story about the film but this was not taken any further unlike what happened in France leading to the penultimate disclosures made by the former President. These were published in France on Friday. Hollande denied knowledge about the deal related to the film, saying for him this was “unimaginable”.
Yet, the point that the French media tried to make through its Friday’s scoop is that there was a conflict of interest and a sort of cronyism involving huge sums because of the twin-deals with the Indian company. The one related to the film helped in the eventual formalisation of the other and bigger one that dealt with the supply of Rafale aircraft to India. And this in turn favoured the Indian company selected by Delhi and agreed to by France to handle the provisions made in the offset clause of the deal.
This whole episode can well be turned into a successful Bollywood potboiler. Yet, nearer home the Express report was taken as one of the virtual come-and-gone fulminations of a little finicky newspaper. The indications provided by the report were taken more seriously in France than what was the case in India. This is despite the country’s formidable reputation for corruption and crony capitalism.
Such indifference to a possibly normal and also savoury role by the media is so great that to beat the heat generated by Hollande’s disclosures the BJP’s redoubtable MP Subramanian Swamy is far from being convinced of any wrongdoing. Instead he argues that the Express story was planted by a politico.
Hours after Hollande’s disclosures Swamy tweeted, “Who provoked the French former President who signed Rafael deal to blurt out about Anil Ambani? The politician who planted in IE the story about filmmaking by a French cine star. This was to hurt Namo. Who is the planter? Who else?”
Who provoked the French fmr President who signed Rafael deal to blurt out about Anil Ambani? The politician who planted in IE the story about film making by a French cine star. This was to hurt Namo. Who is the planter? Who else?
— Subramanian Swamy (@Swamy39) September 22, 2018
One hopes that Swamy will clear the air by disclosing the name of the “culprit” in his eyes for he may well be applauded more than being jeered as Swamy may well like him to be. But whatever may be the outcome of the virtual bombshell dropped by Hollande right now India appears to be caught in the throes of a virtual French Revolution!
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are the personal opinions of the author.