The three-day visit to India of French President Francois Hollande underscored the growing political and business relationship between the two countries. Both being victims of terrorism, their resolve to fight and defeat the evil was only to be expected. The bonhomie between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Hollande was transparent at all the functions, whether in Chandigarh or New Delhi or Gurgaon. Even in pure monetary terms, the visit could only be described as a great success. During the first two days of the visit, they signed business deals worth $15 billion, which does not include the French commitment to invest $10 billion in the next 10 years.
The sectors which will benefit from the deals include defence, renewable energy, space and railways. Modi would have reason to be extremely happy that the French collaboration would help him achieve his objectives when he announced the ‘Make in India’ and smart city schemes. The only area of disappointment was over India’s plan to buy 36 French-built Rafale fighter aircraft to replace the ageing and outmoded Russian-made MiG fighter jets. This deal has been witnessing many ups and downs. Modi tried to cut the Gordian Knot when during a visit to France, he announced his government’s plan to buy the French aircraft in preference to American and British fighter planes. The agreement reached on Monday suggests that barring the price to be paid for the 36 aircraft, everything else about the deal has been decided upon. Now, there will be six French technology-based nuclear power plants at Jaitapur in Maharashtra, instead of two.
One significant feature of the deals is that they take care of the ‘Make in India’ programme. For instance, under the as-yet-unsigned Rafale deal, France will be creating infrastructure in India to build and supply more aircraft once the 36 are delivered. An Indian private vehicle manufacturer is already thrilled at the prospect of building helicopters with the know-how supplied by France. It is noteworthy that among the three cities which France will help become smart is Chandigarh, whose architect was a French hired by Nehru at virtually no fee. More important than all the agreements is the desire the two leaders have shown to take their relationship to a higher level. When Hollande returns to Paris, he would be entitled to have a pat on his back.