Rafale fighter aircraft
Rafale fighter aircraft.Reuters

The raging political debate on the controversial Rafale fighter aircraft deal once again came to the fore on Wednesday after a French media website reported that the plane's manufacturer Dassault Aviation wasn't given an option and forced to tie up with Anil Ambani's Reliance Defence as the main offset partner in the 59,000-crore contract for 36 fighter planes.

French investigative website Mediapart said it had a Dassault document to prove that Reliance Defence was forced on France by the Indian government as offsets partner. Last month the same website had quoted former French President Fran├žois Hollande as saying the same thing.

The report surfaced as Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman left for France on a three-day visit during which the French are expected to pitch for sale of more Rafale fighter planes to India.

According to Mediapart, the document showed that the partnership with Reliance Defence was presented as a "trade off" to get the contract, quoting a presentation made by Dassault's deputy chief executive officer Loik Segalen to the company's staff representatives in Nagpur, where Reliance Defence is based. It described Dassault partnership with the Anil Ambani firm as "imperative and mandatory".

Hollande later tried to distance himself from what he told the website and when asked by AFP whether India was pitching for Reliance Defence he said he was unaware about it and Dassault was better placed to answer the query.

The French government and Dassault dismissed Hollande's claims as not being true and the Indian ministry of defence maintained that they never suggested or forced Dassault to partner any company.

Under the deal, French companies are obliged to re-invest 50% of the contract value in Indian companies related to defence and aviation as offsets.

The French government has denied that it was involved in selection of Indian partners which have been or are being selected by the French companies involved in the deal.