Business, security and culture – these three pillars of India-France relations were showcased as French President Francois Hollande began a three-visit to India from Chandigarh – India’s northern city designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier – and spoke about plans to deepen counter-terror cooperation and economic relations.
Signifying a special place for France in his foreign policy calculus, India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi flew to Chandigarh to spend a sunnySaturday with his French guest, who will be the country’s chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations. The two leaders, who have forged a personal chemistry, memorably reflected in the boat ride together on the Seine river in April last year, met in the iconic Rock Garden in Chandigarh and smiled generously before the cameras.
With France in a state of financial crisis, President Hollande predictably focused on ramping up trade and investment between EU’s third largest economy and Asia’s third largest economy. The India-France Business Summit brought together 25 corporate honchos from the two countries as Indian and French companies signed 16 agreements in diverse sectors.
Speaking at the business conclave, Mr Hollande crystallised key themes of his India visit. With the trauma of the November terror attack in Paris still fresh in his mind, the French leader focused on enhancing counter-terror cooperation with India, a victim of multiple terror attacks over the years. “I will talk about two: first, security, because we are affected by regional crisis and also terrorism. Both countries have been hit. So together we will increase our exchanges, cooperation between services and act to reinforce our military equipment. It is part of the agenda for this trip,” he said.
The second key issue on Mr Hollande’s agenda is deepening of green energy partnership. “Following the success of the 2015 Paris climate conference in December, we are going to translate our common drive to implement as fast as possible the Paris agreement in launching here the solar alliance.”
“It is an epic adventure, where our companies, which are numerous here, will be welcomed in India first in line. Besides, numerous job opportunities are also in line during this trip on top of the diplomatic, political and military agenda,” Mr Hollande added.
Mr Modi, on his part, underlined a widening arc of complementarities between the two countries in the economic arena. “We have the labour and the market for your (French) products,” he said. “We want to venture into defence manufacturing and France and India can do a lot together,” he added.
The prized multi-million dollar defence deal to buy 36 Rafale fighter jets by India will be high on the agenda at the talks between the two leaders in New Delhi on January 25. However, the French leader has indicated that the signing of the Rafale deal could take some more time.
Ahead of the talks in New Delhi, India has struck an upbeat note on the future trajectory of India-France relations. “Our bilateral relationship with France is very comprehensive. It covers number of sectors such as defence, civil nuclear cooperation, railways, smart cities, science and research, space and culture. In all these areas we expect some forward progress during the French President’s visit,” said Vikas Swarup, spokesperson of India’s external affairs ministry.
“France is India’s key strategic partner in the European continent, and the strategic partnership the two countries forged in 1998 have steadily scaled new frontiers. The multifarious relations have been marked by frequent high-profile visits and a rare strategic comfort in each other’s company,” writes Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network, in “India & France: Spring Time, New Horizons.”
“Against the backdrop of new cross-cutting threats ranging from global warming to counter-terrorism, India will be looking to deepen and diversify their robust strategic partnership. Culturally, India and France connect and bond beautifully. It’s a meeting of minds, with education a growing focus area of cooperation.”
Showcasing the special bond between India and France, a contingent of French troops will participate in the celebrations for the 67th Republic Day – the first time troops from a foreign country will participate in India’s national day celebrations. The French soldiers dressed in their trademark colours of red and blue would march right along the Indian troops at the majestic Rajpath, adding dash and flair to the resplendent ceremonial parade.
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