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Tuesday, April 16, 2024

India-France strategic partnership towards vision 2047

Encompassing a myriad of concerns, the joint statement mirrors the broadened global economic and strategic footprint of India. Aligned with the Modi government’s inclination for memorable slogans, three fresh pillars are introduced to guide bilateral collaboration - namely, “Partnership for Peace and Prosperity,” “Partnership for Planet,” and “Partnership for People.” These declarations convey overarching principles, leaning more towards a philosophical articulation of intent rather than strictly diplomatic formulations.

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By: Dipak Kurmi

In this year’s Republic Day celebrations, the esteemed presence of President Emmanuel Macron from France took center stage, adding a touch of international significance. Notably, he stepped into the role as the chief guest, originally designated for US President Joe Biden, who expressed his apologies for being unable to attend. This marked the sixth instance of a French leader gracing the occasion, with the tradition commencing back in 1976 when Jacques Chirac, then the Prime Minister of France, made his inaugural appearance. The historical context deepens as we recall the event during India’s 1975-77 Emergencies, demonstrating the resilience of diplomatic ties. President Chirac returned in 1998, this time as the head of state, closely aligning with a period marked by India’s nuclear tests.

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Prime Minister Indira Gandhi held a deep admiration for the French and their commitment to strategic autonomy, a sentiment rooted in her own Francophilic inclinations. This shared principle became the cornerstone of India’s foreign policy, paving the way for a robust strategic alliance with France. The foundation of this collaboration rested on three pivotal pillars: defense, space, and nuclear cooperation. Unlike dealings with the United States, where ideological considerations often played a role, the French approach to conducting business with India in these crucial domains was marked by a pragmatic and ideology-free perspective.

Highlighting the French laissez-faire stance in foreign policy was the composed response of France to India’s nuclear tests in May 1998. While the United States and its allies reacted vehemently, issuing threats and imposing sanctions, the French response was notably nonchalant. A significant illustration of France’s pragmatic diplomacy emerged during Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s stopover visit in 1998, a time when relations with the United States were just beginning to normalize. This diplomatic maneuver exemplified France’s practical approach, contributing to the nation’s role as a natural and steadfast partner for India in various strategic realms for over half a century.

Despite the brief notice, President Emmanuel Macron’s visit aligns seamlessly with the longstanding warmth characterizing India-France relations, marked by a notable absence of irritants. France adeptly manages its ties with Pakistan, ensuring a calibrated approach that doesn’t disrupt its rapport with India. The joint statement issued on January 26 outlines the key themes shaping the India-France relationship. Notably, it harks back to the Horizon 2047 Roadmap, unveiled during Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to France just over six months ago, where he served as the chief guest during the Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, 2023. This roadmap lays out an ambitious and comprehensive course, setting the stage for a robust bilateral relationship.

Yet, it is crucial to revisit certain details. Notably, a contingent from the French military took part in the Republic Day parade this year, echoing a similar occurrence during President Francois Hollande’s tenure as the chief guest in 2016. The reciprocal nature of this gesture was evident as the Indian armed forces showcased their marching prowess not only during Prime Minister Modi’s attendance as the chief guest at last year’s Bastille Day but also when Dr. Manmohan Singh received a similar honor. This underscores a longstanding tradition where French leaders extend special courtesies to Indian Prime Ministers, emphasizing the enduring nature of this diplomatic practice.

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Historically, the bilateral dynamics between the two nations have consistently leaned towards defense and space collaboration. In the context of European nations, including the United Kingdom, France holds the fifth position among India’s trading partners. However, its standing shifts when considering foreign investment, ranking as the 11th largest contributor with a cumulative foreign direct investment of $10.49 billion. Despite these economic metrics, France demonstrates exceptional prowess in strategic cooperation, particularly in fields of paramount significance.

Encompassing a myriad of concerns, the joint statement mirrors the broadened global economic and strategic footprint of India. Aligned with the Modi government’s inclination for memorable slogans, three fresh pillars are introduced to guide bilateral collaboration – namely, “Partnership for Peace and Prosperity,” “Partnership for Planet,” and “Partnership for People.” These declarations convey overarching principles, leaning more towards a philosophical articulation of intent rather than strictly diplomatic formulations.

The joint statement not only delves into abstract concepts but also provides tangible initiatives. It highlights the Annual Defence Dialogue as the avenue for fostering the “co-design, co-development, co-production” of defense products. Aligned with the “atma nirbhar” principle of self-reliance, the strategy involves bolstering Indian production capabilities through international collaboration. The overarching goal is to position India as a hub for exporting defense products to friendly nations.

Illustrating this is the collaboration between Hindustan Aeronautics and Safran, where they have entered into an agreement encompassing the entire spectrum – from development and certification to production, sales, and support of helicopter engines. While no fresh agreements for Scorpene submarines were unveiled, an ongoing joint venture continues its production. Notably, Airbus Helicopters and the Tata Group have inked an agreement to initiate a production line dedicated to civilian-use helicopters. Adding a futuristic touch, the year 2026 has been designated as the “India-France Year of Innovation.”

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The joint statement lays out an ambitious vision for the bilateral partnership, aspiring to foster resilient and prosperous economies, ensure security, tackle global challenges, rejuvenate multilateralism, and establish a stable international order. While these goals may seem utopian, even the United Nations has encountered challenges in realizing them. The statement’s stance on the Gaza conflict exemplifies this complexity, as it not only condemns the terrorist attack on Israel but also calls for adherence to international humanitarian law, provision of humanitarian assistance, and the initiation of a “political process” towards a “two-state solution.” Notably, neither nation is currently involved in the latest ceasefire talks proposed by the United States.

Similarly, the reaffirmation of the India-Middle East-Europe Corridor (IMEC) agreement, initially announced during the G-20 summit in New Delhi last September, is emphasized. However, with the ongoing conflict between Israel and Hamas in Gaza, discussions about a corridor through the UAE and Saudi Arabia seem somewhat premature. Commending this initiative in the joint statement appears somewhat out of sync with the current situation. Additionally, there are proposals to enhance French language education, target an annual sending of 30,000 Indian students to France, and introduce a Young Professional Scheme to expedite the movement of professionals. The plan also includes an increase in mutual diplomatic presence with the establishment of new consulates in Marseille and Hyderabad. The Indo-Pacific region emerges as a focal point for strengthened cooperation. France’s retention of territorial possessions such as Reunion Island in the Indian Ocean, and New Caledonia and French Polynesia in the Pacific, is acknowledged. Noteworthy is France’s trilateral dialogue framework with the UAE and India, further expanding India’s network of plurilateral ties.

France played a pivotal role in granting India access to high technology during the era of technology-denial regimes before 1998. Despite the expanding options for India in acquiring high-tech weaponry and platforms through improved Indo-US relations, France remains a steadfast and proven partner, akin to Russia. It serves as a crucial counterbalance, preventing over-reliance on the United States. Ironically, as President Macron observed India’s Republic Day celebrations and parade, a parallel scenario unfolded with 70,000 French farmers staging protests across the country. The demonstration, featuring over 40,000 tractors, disrupted France’s main arteries. The backdrop to this agrarian unrest is the transformative shift in European agricultural policy in 2023, advocating for a green and carbon-neutral economy. Of particular contention among farmers was the obligation to leave four percent of land fallow to uphold biodiversity, sparking discontent in the agricultural community.

With a thriving Indian diaspora exceeding one lakh, there is a growing desire to enhance and streamline the exodus of students and professionals from India to France. However, the ascent of xenophobic right-wing factions, not only in France but also across Europe, poses a potential hindrance. Amidst the challenges posed by climate change, regional conflicts, financial crises, and the evolving global power dynamics, there emerge both new prospects and obstacles for the engagement between India and France. Navigating through these complexities becomes a key consideration in fostering bilateral relations. (The writer can be reached at dipaknewslive@gmail.com)

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The Hills Times
The Hills Timeshttps://www.thehillstimes.in/
The Hills Times, a largely circulated English daily published from Diphu and printed in Guwahati, having vast readership in hills districts of Assam, and neighbouring Nagaland, Meghalaya, Arunachal Pradesh and Manipur.
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