Updated: January 27, 2016 12:21:24 am
If the special relationship between India and France was symbolised by the extension of the Republic Day invitation to France for a record fifth time and the participation of a French contingent — the first by a foreign military — in the parade, the substance of that relationship has been reaffirmed by President François Hollande’s visit, his second in less than three years. For decades, France has been India’s most consistent backer and partner — exemplified by its support for India’s nuclear programme, helping Delhi mitigate the effects of post-Pokhran 2 sanctions as well as negotiate the civil nuclear deal with the US. The focus of Hollande’s visit has, unsurprisingly, been the strategic partnership, extended to defence and security, and counter-terrorism. The renewal of the bilateral Agreement on Defence Cooperation for another 10 years and France’s commitment to help India’s accession to multilateral export control regimes like the Nuclear Suppliers Group, etc, as well as its support for India’s permanent membership at the UN Security Council, confirm the depth of this longstanding partnership.
That partnership has now been comprehensively extended to counter-terrorism, in the wake of the Paris and Pathankot attacks. That a separate joint statement was issued on this demonstrates how serious Delhi and Paris are about working together on counter-terrorism. For the first time, the two countries named Pakistan-based India-specific terror groups. They also reiterated their demand for Islamabad to bring the perpetrators of Pathankot and 26/11 to justice. However, any assessment of Hollande’s visit must account for other sectors. Building on the climate summit, PM Narendra Modi and Hollande have expanded bilateral cooperation in renewable and clean energy, as part of which they inaugurated the International Solar Alliance’s headquarters in Gurgaon. It is also hoped that the implementation of the Jaitapur nuclear power project will begin in 2017, now that a new MoU between the NPCIL and France’s EDF has been initialled. The benefits of French engineering will also be seen in urban development and transport, with France partnering in three smart-city projects and the JV agreement between Indian Railways and Alstom on manufacturing locomotives in India as well as the shareholding agreement for investment in the Madhepura factory coming through. Hollande’s visit also laid emphasis on people-to-people contacts, with France granting an extended stay of two years to Indian students at the masters level and above.
Yet, despite the MoU on technical aspects being signed on the Rafale fighter deal, the financial agreement is still elusive. Rafale was selected in 2012, after the bids were announced in 2007. In January 2016, the deal is still not done. For the French press, Rafale was the centrepiece of Hollande’s visit. If India is to build partnerships with key interlocutors, Delhi must unlearn its costly inability to conclude important negotiations.
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