Sunday 10th of December 2023

Hollande plays the harbinger of abiding rendezvous of the two republics
Santosh Kumar
Region : Asia, SouthAsia/India,
Issue : Nuclear Issues, Security, Terrorism,
French President Francois Hollande’s state visit opens a new chapter in India, France relationship through mutual appreciation of shared concerns.
“Europe in terminal decline” - this caption suited some commentaries when these were focused on Europe taking a back seat as far as its being the growth engine of the world economy was concerned but any conclusion exceeding this bare fact, proves to be a thoroughly unwarranted red herring. As of today Europe retains along with USA its position as a pre-eminent strategic power. Despite European Union being India’s largest trading partner, when the strategic partnership with EU as a whole was not progressing as expected by India, the decision of the new dispensation in New Delhi to focus on real power centres of Europe was really a laudable one. In this backdrop PM Modi’s France visit in April last year was a very significant one. The visit built on the history of exceptional roles played by France in extending support to India in international arena when no support was forthcoming and worse still, sanctions were order of the day. While visit of PM Modi had “make in India” as its theme and 20 pacts were signed in its wake, the state visit accorded to French President Francois Hollande as the Chief Guest of India’s Republic Day parade has simultaneously ramped up and consolidated the gains of renewed engagement initiated over last nine months. The unfortunate Paris attacks have forced France to recalibrate its terror response mechanism, chart out independent course of action and made it empathize more with India’s cause which has been at the receiving end of trans border terrorism for over more than two decades.
While welcoming French President Hollande, the statement of PM Modi “India and France are made for each other. France has the resources, we have the need and the market” could not have come at a more opportune time. On 18 January 2016 “a state of social and economic emergency” was declared by French President Francois Hollande. Socialist government of President Hollande is struggling to boost long stagnant growth of the economy, reduce chronic unemployment which has been consistently been around 10% for years. Hence it makes tremendous political sense for the President to do everything he can, to make a dent in the numbers of jobless people in French economy. Thus doing business with India makes lot of sense.
India has a long “to do” list as far as France is concerned. Enthused as it is by France’s stellar track record of standing by India in adverse times, India is taking a futuristic view of what could be a very credible, confident and mutually beneficial partnership of 21st century. Need we remind ourselves that in 1998 at the turn of century, in wake of India’s nuclear tests France was the first country to offer moral support to us by signing a strategic partnership agreement that year? Needless to say, truly meaningful strategic partnerships are developed on the bedrocks of such genuine gestures of friendship.
List of agreements and MOUs signed during the state visit of President Hollande include areas of defence purchase and co-operation, space, science and technology, food safety, railways, best practices in public administration, exchange programmes in higher education, collaboration in research among Universities, industries and regular cultural exchanges between people of two countries. Besides, inauguration of interim secretariat of International Solar Alliance builds on the initiative launched by both the leaders at the climate change summit in Paris.
In area of counter terror cooperation, this visit signals a paradigm shift in level of understanding and appreciation of each other’s concern reflected in the wordings of the joint statement. Para 8 and 9 of the India – France joint statement lay bare the game of proxies, double speaks and puts the onus squarely on those in control, to act decisively. The Joint statement notes:
[Para.8] “Stressing that terrorism cannot be justified under any circumstance, regardless of its motivation, wherever and by whomsoever it is committed, both leaders asked for decisive actions to be taken against Lashkar-e-Tayibba, Jaish-e-Mohammad, Hizb-ul-Mujahideen, Haqqani Network and other terrorist groups such as Al Qaeda. Condemning the recent terror attacks in Pathankot and Gurdaspur in India, the two countries reiterated their call for Pakistan to bring to justice their perpetrators and the perpetrators of the November 2008 terrorist attacks in Mumbai, which also caused the demise of two French citizens, and to ensure that such attacks do not recur in the future. President Hollande commended India for its stabilizing role in South Asia, in particular in Afghanistan, and its recent initiative to launch a comprehensive dialogue with Pakistan.”
[Para.9 ] “The two sides noted that terrorist activities and proxies supported from safe havens across Afghanistan’s borders pose a grave threat to peace, security and stability of Afghanistan. In this regard, they emphasized the need to address this challenge by dismantling terrorist sanctuaries and safe havens and disrupting all financial and other support for terrorist groups and individuals. The two sides emphasized that durable peace and political reconciliation in Afghanistan require maintaining continued international support to the efforts led and owned by Government of Afghanistan. They reaffirmed their commitment to the key principles of a peaceful inter-Afghan dialogue: acceptance of the Afghan Constitution, renunciation of violence and severing links with terrorism.”
Identifying and naming of terror outfits is indeed a bold departure from existing traditions of mundane Joint statements. This will go a long way towards moulding opinion against the tentacles of global terror of which India has been at the receiving end for over two decades. Global war against terror requires concerted effort of the community of nations with unequivocal commitment against its state and non-state sponsors. France with hands on experience in dealing with terrorism can be our lead advocate in western world.
Inter Governmental agreement for purchase of 36 Rafale aircrafts and signing of MOUs 9 months after the deal was first announced in Paris has come for its share of criticism. Critics point out that it only weakens our bargaining position all the more when financial issues and pricing remains major sticking point. On the other hand any further delay in procurment of air power platforms would compromise our airforce and diminish our squadron strength to a record low. We must tread this path with extreme caution and promptness it deserves. Finalisation of the deal would require continued engagement at the highest level and would test the limits to which French govt. could prevail on Dassault, which is a privately held manufacturing firm. Offsets clause requiring sourcing of 30% of indigenous content in defence contracts on other hand, would test the “make in India” preparedness of our industrial ecosystem.
Capacity building in other domains of our national programme is surely going to get a boost with French support. President Hollande has already offered his assistance in Smart city development of Chandigarh, Puducherry and Nagpur. There are areas of convergence of development paradigms where France can be true partner in India’s pressing developmental needs. Adapting to clean and green energy sources is one such area where France being amongst the world leaders promises fruitful partnership.
Overall, foreign policy of a country can not be conducted in isolation, detached from our domestic state of affairs. Any sustained engagement with France would pre- suppose the actual execution of intended policy decisions without delay, within the country. This would be essential pre-cursor to enduring rendezvous and romance with France.
Views expressed are of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of FORE INDIA.

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