Cultural and scholarly fascination
has ensured that India and France remain deeply engaged as
societies. Relations between them as states have proved enduring
since Charles de Gaulle's era due to a fundamental affinity born
of common values and a shared passion for independence in foreign
affairs. This vital relationship, showcased astutely during
President Francois Hollande's recent visit to India, is
characterized by three Ss - Synergy, Sovereignty and Stability. A
concise 21-paragraph joint statement reflects the two governments'
faith in independence, strategic autonomy and strengthened
The phrase 'strategic partnership', though devalued considerably
due to overuse, applies aptly to Indo-French ties. An approach
favouring multi-polarity and anchored in a sophisticated worldview
permits them to forge coordination, despite divergences on issues
such as Iran, Syria and Afghanistan. Strategic partnership has
grown well in the past 15 years. Introduced in 1998, it survived
many changes of government in Paris and Delhi. Parleys between
Hollande and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh have led to
their decision for its "robust development".
Four key pillars of strategic partnership are: civil nuclear
energy, defence, space and counterterrorism.
The first relates to French assistance in setting up six nuclear
reactors in Jaitapur in Maharashtra, negotiations for which have
been proceeding rather gingerly. Their complexity cannot be denied
which stems from growing concerns over nuclear safety after the
Fukushima disaster, implications of India's nuclear liability
legislation, and rising costs as a consequence. The two leaders
have decided to expedite these negotiations. A comforting thought
is France's continuing support for India's entry into the Nuclear
Suppliers Group and other export control bodies even though
success may still prove elusive.
Defence cooperation is not all about Rafale only, although it
forms an important segment today. Association with France is now
60 years old as Dassault's first aircraft - Ouragan - was inducted
into the Indian Air Force in 1953. The impressive performance of
Mirage 2000 during Kargil conflict is well known. The French
joyously celebrated their triumph when the Rafale order was bagged
- 126 aircraft for $12 billion, beating competition from US and a
European consortium. Agreement may be signed later this year. The
two leaders have given directions for speedy conclusion of
A top diplomatic source indicated that while the first 18 aircraft
would be manufactured entirely in France, by the time "the last of
the 126 aircraft rolls in, 80 percent of the value addition is
supposed to have been done in India". Beyond aircraft acquisition,
attention remains focussed on equipment needed by Indian Navy such
as Scorpene submarines. Early finalisation of short range
surface-to-air missiles project is also envisaged.
Space cooperation is moving apace. A joint satellite,
Megha-Tropicques, was launched in October 2011 for studying
tropical atmosphere. Another joint satellite, to be launched soon,
will study sea surface altitude. These initiatives, according to
an official of India's external affairs ministry, are seen as "a
significant contribution" to the global community's understanding
of weather and climate change.
As regards terrorism, the two leaders were absolutely clear. "No
compromise is possible with terrorists," affirms the joint
statement. A striking identity of views on the threat of terrorism
in Afghanistan, Mali and Pakistan's obligation to punish
perpetrators of Mumbai terror attack was especially notable.
Relevant agencies of the two governments are known to cooperate
closely for quite a long time.
An area of relative weakness in Indo-French relations is trade and
investment cooperation. The two sides are lagging behind for
meeting targets in trade growth. In 2011-12, trade was valued at
$8.89 billion, which falls short of the target set at a previous
French companies have invested $3.5 billion in India, although a
recent study by the French embassy in Delhi claims that the actual
figure is over five times. Considering that 800 French companies
have operations in India and several top Indian corporates are
active in French market, governments need to be more assertive.
The two sides reviewed negotiations concerning India-EU free trade
agreement, already delayed inordinately. EU ambassador Joabo
Cravinho's assertion that "elections in India on the horizon"
could delay these negotiations further was disturbing. Recession
in Europe is another major constraint. The coming weeks will
indicate if Paris and Delhi, working together with Brussels, can
break the logjam.
A truly promising facet of the relationship is growing
people-to-people linkages concerning education and culture.
Presently 3,000 Indian students are in French universities and
1,500 young French are studying in India. These numbers need to go
up rapidly. French admiration of India's culture and cinema is
much appreciated. France is planning events to mark the first
centenary of Indian cinema. India will be 'the special country of
honour' at the Cannes film festival this year. The famous Louvre
museum in Paris will hold a major exhibition.
As compared to 1970s when I served as a young diplomat in Paris,
relations have diversified and deepened hugely. Last week four
agreements relating to railways, education, culture and space
exploration were signed, besides business agreements. "I do sense
a connection between India and France...we do complement each
other significantly," said Hollande. His visit is certain to give
a fillip to strengthen this "multifaceted" relationship further.
Rajiv Bhatia is Director General of Indian Council of
World Affairs. The views expressed are personal. He can be
contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org