Freshly confident from an effective intervention in Mali, President Francois Hollande arrived in India liberated from the shadow of his predecessor Nicolas Sarkozy, a favourite in New Delhi and with India’s business leaders, but ready to build on his legacy. The two countries have established strong diplomatic, political and strategic ties over the years, and the Hollande visit reaffirmed that both are eager to take this engagement to a new level. That keenness was already evident in India’s backing to the French decision in January to send troops to oust Islamist rebels who had taken over parts of Mali, which New Delhi viewed as an effort against a terrorist takeover of that country. As part of the Support and Follow-Up Group for Mali, New Delhi has made a $1million pledge for building the country’s army, with the promise of $100 million more later. These steps complement both India’s burgeoning interest in Africa, particularly in the uranium and oil-rich Francophone countries of West Africa, as well as France’s plans to secure the region from Islamist militancy and splinter groups of the al Qaeda as it safeguards its own interests in those countries.
It is no coincidence, then, that India and France have been moving towards greater naval co-operation, an important aspect of that being combating sea piracy. In general, defence ties have gained momentum in recent years, with France assiduously trying to combat the impression that it sees India just as a market for its hardware. The Scorpene project, under which the manufacture of the submarine has been sub-contracted to India, and Dassault’s Rafale fighters for the Indian Air Force, include significant transfers of technology. The $11 billion aircraft deal is still being negotiated and the French are eager to see it concluded soon, as expressed in the joint statement during the visit. The traditional good relations between the two countries have been driven by the need to build a robust multilateralism. France supports India’s candidature for a permanent seat in an expanded Security Council. It was the first country to sign a civilian nuclear deal with India, and supports New Delhi’s pursuit of membership in the four WMD-related multilateral export groups. Next week will see the launch of SARAL, a satellite to study oceans and seas, a product of long-standing scientific collaboration between the two countries. With so much going for bilateral ties, it seems odd that economic ties lag below potential. Two-way trade and investment are yet to touch the €12 bn target set in 2008. An annual dialogue on economic and financial issues that the two sides agreed to during President Hollande’s visit will hopefully help.