India and France forged strategic partnership in 1998, which has steadily expanded to include a host of new areas. Defence cooperation forms the bedrock of this vital relationship. In this interview with Manish Chand, Editor-in-Chief, India Writes Network (www.indiawrites.org), Mr Rakesh Sood, India’s former ambassador to France, speaks about the prospects of the mammoth Rafale deal, possibilities of bilateral cooperation in the crucial Indian Ocean region and how the burgeoning strategic ties are complemented by cultural bonding.
(Excerpts from the interview)
Q) France is betting big on the Rafale deal. Do you see a closure of this deal in the near future do you think that the Modi-Hollande meeting will give the political push for the closure of the deal?
A) I am quite sure the prime minister’s meeting in Paris with the French president will give the push. These negotiations have been going on for sometime; understandably these are some complex negotiations and we are also moving into new areas on life cycle costing and so on, which are a new experience for us. And there can’t be a bigger political push than a summit-level meeting between the prime minister and the president.
Q) There are reports that the India and the France are going to cooperate in the Indian Ocean region …What would that entail?
A) You know a lot of people do not realize it, but France is an Indian Ocean power because among their overseas territories is the Reunion Islands. The French population in their overseas territories in the Indian Ocean is about a million strong and out of that about one quarter of the population (250,000) is of Indian origin. France has a naval presence both in Reunion as well as in Djibouti. Our navies have worked together in anti-piracy operations. Prime Minister Modi, when he was recently visiting Sri Lanka Seychelles and Mauritius, he spoke about the Indian Ocean policy for the first time and he said there that while we would be expanding our presence and our role in the Indian Ocean we would also like to work with other like-minded partners. We also saw while US President Obama was here one of the statements that came out of the summit-level meeting was the joint statement on the Indian Ocean and the Asia-Pacific region. So clearly we can see a growing area of cooperation given the fact that France is an Indian Ocean entity. We can see greater cooperation in the Indian Ocean over our global commons and maritime resources.
Q) There is a strong cultural connect between India and France. In the arena of cultural cooperation, what can we expect from the prime minister’s visit?
A) In many ways, Paris is considered the cultural capital of Europe. The French people have always been very open to Indian culture. In fact, the Indian cinema was first celebrated and given a global platform in France and even now among the new Indian producers and directors, they always get an opening at the famous Cannes film festival. In addition to that, there is a very strong school of French academicians, French dancers who have specialised in Indian languages, Indian culture, Indian dance and Indian music. And many of them live here and they provide a very solid bridge between the two countries and almost every year we have a number of festivals organised in small cities in France.