New Delhi: In a major development, former French President François Hollande on Saturday clarified that he was “unaware” of India putting pressure on his government to make Reliance the Indian partner for the production of Rafale jet fighters.

Hollande said Rafale manufacturer “Dassault Aviation can comment on this” and France "did not choose Reliance in any way".

Earlier in the day, Congress president Rahul Gandhi had used the purported statement made by the former French president that the Reliance Defence of Anil Ambani was imposed on the French government by the Indian side in the 36 Rafale aircraft contract to launch a scathing attack on Prime Minister Narendra Modi by saying that the Prime Minister was a “thief”.

News agency ANI quoted an AFP report saying when Hollande was asked whether India had put pressure on Reliance and Dassault to work together, he said he was unaware of it. The ex-President of France said Dassault alone could comment on the issue.

Hollande also stated that there was no reason for Reliance to thank him for anything.

“… This group (Reliance) did not have to give me any thanks for anything. I could not even imagine that there was any connection to a film by Julie Gayet: Former President of France, François Hollande, to AFP,” ANI tweeted.

Buoyed by the reported statements of Hollande, which had appeared on a French website, the Congress has been aggressively targeting the Union government as the opposition saw an opportunity to target Prime Minister Narendra Modi personally for the Rafale deal.

However, the French government and the aircraft maker Dassault Aviation had last night contradicted Hollande. The French government said it had no role in selecting an industrial partner in the deal for the French firm while Dassault Aviation clearly stated that they had chosen Anil Ambani’s Reliance Defence on their own without any pressure from external forces.

Reacting to the strong abusive language used by the Congress president for the Prime Minister, law minister Ravi Shankar Prasad said, “Never before in the history of independent India has a party president used such words for a PM. We can't expect anything else from Rahul Gandhi. He has no quality or ability, he's there due to his family.”