PARIS: It’s spring time in Paris, and there is a new spring, bounce and vitality in India-France relations. Paris in April looks like the heaven on earth, and is the first stop in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s maiden trip to Europe and the continent’s powerful economy. 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. In February 2013, French President Francois Hollande chose India as the first country in Asia for a bilateral visit, underscoring the special place New Delhi has carved in Paris’ strategic calculus. The reform-minded Indian prime minister has triggered a fresh wave of enthusiasm in France about the India Story. Not surprisingly, President Hollande sent Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius to New Delhi within weeks of Mr Modi being sworn in as the prime minister of India in July last year, indicating Paris’ hopes about a new spring in India France relations. And now Mr Modi heads on a multi-city tour to France (April 9-12) that includes besides Paris, Toulouse, and Neuve-Chapelle, the site of the famous World War I battle, which will illuminate the multi-hued tapestry of India-France relations. The visit will be high on symbolic gestures like the planned boat ride the prime minister will have with the French president on Seine, and is expected to generate a host of substantive outcomes which will have a bearing on the future trajectory of India-France relations.
What’s on the table?
When Prime Minister Modi sits down for talks with the French president in Paris April 10, there will be a lot on the table besides delicious gourmet food for which the French are famous. The menu will be appetising and varied – trade and investment, nuclear energy, science and technology, defence deals and space will vie for the leaders’ mind space as they map out an ambitious agenda to upscale India-France relations across the spectrum.
The leaders of India and France have already forged a personal rapport; Mr Modi met the French president on the margins of the G20 summit in Brisbane in Australia in November last year, and conveyed his desire to scale up bilateral relations to new heights.
Economic diplomacy will be high on the agenda. Ahead of his three-nation trip to France, Germany and Canada, Prime Minister Modi has tweeted: “My France, Germany and Canada visit is centred around supporting India’s economic agenda and creating jobs for our youth. Will discuss strengthening India-France economic co-operation and visit some high-tech industrial units outside Paris.” Economic relations are on an upward trajectory, with bilateral trade exceeding $7 billion. French companies are betting on India’s growth prospects, and plan to put in more money into Asia’s third largest economy and one of the world’s fastest growing companies. French investments in India have already exceeded around $10 billion. And more than 700 French companies are doing thriving business in India, creating jobs and setting new benchmarks in innovation.
Make in India & Smart Cities
Another area where India will be looking to seek French investment and expertise is in the area of smart cities and bolstering urban infrastructure. ”Some of the global leaders in urban planning, urban infrastructure, urban transportation, water management, sewage management, public sanitation are French companies, and this should be an important area of India-France collaboration,” Rakesh Sood, India’s ambassador to France, told www.indiawrites.org in an interview.
The Make in India campaign will be in focus when Mr Modi goes to Toulouse, home to Airbus Industries where he will be looking to leverage French technologies and innovations to bolster India’s civil aviation infrastructure and the country’s emerging military-industry complex.
Atoms for Peace/Nuclear Deal
Taking civil nuclear cooperation forward will be high on the agenda. France was the first country to sign a bilateral civil nuclear pact with India after the Nuclear Suppliers Group’s landmark waiver in September 2008. France, which depends on nuclear energy for the bulk of its electricity needs, is also special in India’s quest for civil nuclear energy as it supplied nuclear fuel to the Tarapur nuclear plant when the world’s big economies were shunning India for the nuclear tests. Now, the India-France civil nuclear cooperation is set to fructify with the two sides set to resolve some lingering issues to finalise administrative arrangements for French nuclear giant Areva to set up six atomic reactors in Jaitapur in Maharashtra.
The space partnership shows the sky is virtually the limit. Indian Space Research Organisation (ISRO) and its French counterpart, Centre National de Etudes Spatiales (CNES), have been collaborating for decades on space technologies and jointly launching satellites. The ISRO and CNES jointly developed the Satellite for ARGOS and ALTIKA (SARAL) carrying a radar altimeter to study sea surface altitude and a data collection platform for collecting data from ocean buoys and weather data centres (ARGOS). It’s a win-win collaboration: CNES provided the payloads and ISRO was responsible for satellite platform and launch using PSLV and operations. The integrated SARAL satellite was launched on February 25, 2013.
Defence cooperation remains the bedrock of the growing strategic partnership. The two countries have held three editions of joint army exercise entitled SHAKTI and five editions of the Indo-French Air Exercise Garuda. The Indo-French Naval Exercise, VARUNA, was held in the Mediterranean sea off the port of Toulon from 19-22 July, 2012. France is among the top suppliers of cutting-edge weapons systems to India. One can expect some discussions on fast-tracking the purchase of the Rafale aircraft, touted as the mother of all defence deals, during the talks in Paris.
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. Prime Minister Modi promptly rang up the French president when a French satirical weekly was targeted by terrorists in Paris and reaffirmed India’s commitment to counter-terrorism cooperation. The two countries will be looking to bolster intelligence-sharing in the area of counter-terrorism.
Culturally, India and France connect and bond beautifully. It’s a meeting of minds, with education a growing focus area of cooperation. There are around 3000 Indian students studying in France. Around 400 MoUs have been inked between Indian and French universities and private institutions. Paris, the cultural capital of Europe, remains the dream destination for Indian tourists, and the India Story has a captive audience in France. Bollywood rocks in France, and the French avant garde cinema has a devoted following in India. This cultural alchemy glowed in Namaste France and Bonjour India festivals held in the last few years. Paris in April looks a perfect place and time to flower new dreams for this crucial strategic partnership, and map out fresh avenues for the evolving and dynamic India-France relations.
(Manish Chand is Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network, www.indiawrites.org, an e-magazine-journal focused on international affairs and the India Story)
–The views expressed in this article are solely those of the author
(This article was first published on the website of India’s Ministry of External Affairs, www.mea.gov.in)
*257 TRADE COOPERATION BETWEEN INDIA AND FRANCE
Joint Statement issued by India and France during the State Visit of President of France to India
List of Documents signed during the State Visit of President of France to India
- Manish Chand is Founder-CEO and Editor-in-Chief of India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org) and India and World, a pioneering magazine focused on international affairs. He is CEO/Director of TGII Media Private Limited, an India-based media, publishing, research and consultancy company.
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