Rafale fighter aircraft
Rafale fighter aircraft.Reuters

Dassault Aviation, the manufacturer of Rafale fighter aircraft, says the reason it picked Anil Ambani-owned Reliance Defence as its offset partner in India was that it was registered with the Ministry of Corporate Affairs. The company also had a land right next to a runway in Nagpur, reports NDTV.

The Rs 59,000-crore deal to acquire 36 Rafale aircraft by India from France has sparked a major controversy with the Congress-led Opposition accusing the NDA government of unduly favouring debt-ridden Reliance Defence, which bagged a part of the Rs 30,000 crore offsets, which Dassault will invest in India as part of the deal to boost the aerospace sector.

However, Dassault denies the Congress charge and says they have been in talks with Anil Ambani after he took over the defence manufacturing firm from his brother Mukesh. The company added that the plan to collaborate on aerospace products was cemented during the Aero India air show in February 2015, around two months before the Rafale deal was signed by Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the then French President Francois Hollande on April 10.

Originally, state-run Hindustan Aeronautics Limited (HAL) was set to manufacture 108 Rafales, out of the 126, the rest were to be bought in a flyaway condition. These were to be ordered after the Rafale won the medium multirole combat aircraft competition. Mukesh Ambani's firm was also a partner in the deal though it was not clear what its role was.

Dassault says it started talks with Mukesh's firm in 2012 and later, after the company changed hands, with the Anil-led company.

Only 17 days before Modi announced that India would buy 36 Rafale fighter aircraft, all to be made in France, Dassault boss Eric Trappier said in a speech that his company was looking forward to partnering with HAL to make the planes in India.

Dassault now says the statement by its chief was because he was hopeful that the deal with HAL to manufacture the 108 planes was about to be signed and he wasn't aware that government of India had some other plans.

However, Congress accused the NDA government of crony capitalism and removing HAL from the deal and replacing it with Reliance Defence, which has no experience in the aerospace field and is on verge of bankruptcy, to favour Anil Ambani who has been a major financial contributor to the BJP.