The four-day India visit of French President Nicolas Sarkozy scripted a new chapter in strengthening the relations between India and France. The most striking feature of the visit was further emphasis on strategic partnership between the two countries. Here it is worth mentioning that India-France relations have been on even keel since 1998, when despite India’s nuclear tests being conducted while the French foreign minister was in India, they did not use condemnatory language or impose sanction. Thus the seeds for close engagement had been sown earlier in 1998 when President Jacques Chirac visited India. They fructified when during Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee’s visit to Paris later the same year the two countries agreed to commence a strategic dialogue. Reaffirming this tradition, President Sarkozy, in his recent visit, said that France wanted to accompany India in its potent march towards the future. And Sarkozy’s words were not mere political niceties, as they are substantiated by the fact that President Sarkozy’s visit is the fourth in a series of high-level exchanges between India and France in the last three years. This reflects the high importance that he attaches to strategic partnership between the two countries. It cannot be gainsaid that the strengthening of this partnership owes a great deal to the personal commitment of President Sarkozy. It is because of his inspiring leadership and unqualified support that relations between India and France are today underpinned by warmth, dynamism, strong mutual trust and confidence. Therefore, the present visit should be seen as the next step in a journey began 12 years ago.
Both India and France share a perspective that the new world order has to be a genuine multi-polar world order. Yet, many of us have perhaps failed to notice the fact that President Obama’s visit was surrounded with enormous hype. However, in the end, the visit proved to be very low on substance and high on hype. But it is factually true that President Sarkozy signed deals in India worth more than what President Obama signed during his visit to India early last month. What is more, the deal with France benefits India immensely, i.e. as it counterbalances excessive dependence on any major power for four things: cutting-edge technologies in defence and space; nuclear energy; dual-use technologies in chemicals, pharmaceuticals etc; and finally, an advocate for India’s inclusion in the global governance structures. Repeatedly Mr Sarkozy articulated the need to admit India as a permanent member of the UN Security Council, which France had been saying for some years. However, some issues relating to the proposed $9.3 billion deal with France need to be ironed out; these relate to Indian safety and cost concerns over France’s advanced but yet-to-be-proven European Pressurised Reactors (EPRs) as well as French discomfort with the civilian nuclear liability legislation recently adopted by the Indian Parliament. In spite of this discomfort, French President Sarkozy’s visit to India couldn’t have been better in terms of timing and practicality. The agenda for Sarkozy’s appointment with the Indian government was much along the same lines as US President Barack Obama’s trip: explore for potential and capitalise on what is positive in the Indian market. Europe and its economies—this includes France—are stressed to cope with huge deficits. For Sarkozy, India presents the lifeline for the present and the future in terms of investment and exports and creating jobs. India’s needs in turn bear perfect resonance with what the French in turn have to offer in terms of investments in retail and infrastructure. So it is a bit of a quid pro quo, with India assuming the role of important partner in their alliance with the French.
The government, therefore, needs to understand that hype and over-dependence on the USA is not fruitful for India. Setting a comparison between the visits of Barack Obama and Sarkozy reveals that Sarkozy’s visit was far more directed towards Indian interests. There was no major agreement that was signed during Obama’s visit, which Indians could cherish. The arms deal was more directed favouring the business strategy of US rather than that of Indians–both business and military plans. On the same front, Sarkozy has been more affirmative in supporting India. A big item on President Sarkozy’s agenda was to pitch Dassault’s $10-billion bid to sell the Indian Air Force 126 Rafale fighter aircraft, and push a long-pending agreement to upgrade the IAF’s existing Mirage fleet. But clearly, both countries recognise that it is in their mutual interest to broad-base economic relations. Hence, both the countries renewed their determination to achieve the trade target of 12 billion Euros by 2012. Whereas, the USA seems to be more concerned in bringing down the subsidy of its firms favouring outsourcing, which goes against Indian interests. It’s therefore high time India stopped looking at the world through the prism of its relationship with the US and made conscious attempts at giving a new meaning and direction to its relations with countries like France and Britain, which have shown remarkable eagerness to form deeper economic and bilateral relations with India. In this way we will not only steadily reduce our reliance on the USA but will also march towards becoming a true global power.