Why Hollande is a better Friend than Obama!

The visit of President François Hollande, at the Republic Day celebrations is far more significant than that by the American President last year.

France represents the most important diplomatic relationship for India at its present stage of development.

Some 50 years ago, Capgemini – a pioneering company founded by the entrepreneur, Serge Kampf, in the French city of Grenoble in 1967 – employed a mere hundred Indians. Today, Capgemini’s work-force in India is more than one lakh men and women.

Aadhaar is now a household word in India. Even the poorest of the poor have heard Aadhaar mentioned at some point. Aadhaar, which is fundamentally changing the way a lot of daily transactions in India are being conducted, was possible with help from a French company, Safran Morpho, founded in 1924 under its original name of Sagem. This company uniquely developed for India’s “unique identification number” project the necessary biometric technology: it was one of the biggest challenges of its kind in the history of the human race, registering over a billion people under one scheme.

In these times of terrorist threats, Safran Morpho helps keep India safe. It supplies explosive, narcotic and threat detection systems for India’s major airports. It also helps secure the Indian air force, the ministries of home and external affairs, and public sector undertakings which have a security component, such as the Electronics Corporation of India Limited in Hyderabad. When Mr. Hollande told Mr. Modi that one in every three Indians is able to telecommunicate because of a Safran Morpho subsidiary, Syscom Corporation, the prime minister thanked the visiting president for the parent French company’s role in helping to run the national rural employment guarantee scheme and the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna.

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Prime minister Modi with President Hollande
Prime minister Modi with President Hollande

Bihar is forging ahead significantly in creating factory jobs. It is a French company, Alstom Transport, which will manufacture 800 electric locomotives for Indian Railways at a new plant it will build in Madehpura, Bihar. To start with, jobs are guaranteed there over the next ten years that it will take to supply these locomotives. Investment in this project is estimated at Rs 19,800 crore. Alstom Transport was the first firm to offer foreign direct investment in rail projects after the government liberalized foreign direct investment in the railways.

Similarly, after the Centre raised permissible FDI in the insurance sector from 24 to 49 per cent, France’s AXA was the first to respond. It immediately applied to the government to enhance up to the new limit its stake in the joint ventures with the Bharti group, bringing in fresh foreign capital.

There has been criticism that Mr.Modi’s NDA government is neglecting public health and is insensitive to the welfare needs of the poor. In pharmaceuticals, even the previous government was under pressure to dilute India’s self-reliance on medicines for the poor. Just last month, Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical giant, announced that it will manufacture an injectable polio vaccine in Hyderabad, not only for domestic use, but also for export. For such activities, Sanofi made Shantha Biotechnics an Indian affiliate of the parent French company in 2009. For those unfamiliar with Sanofi, it was originally the multinational, Hoechst, which has been operating in this country since 1956.

How unfortunate that despite such an impressive French record in helping India meet its vital needs, Hollande’s visit did not generate even a fraction of the public interest that Obama’s visit did!.

The listing above of Indo-French engagement is only a partial enumeration of how important Hollande’s visit is. France was the only big power to initially support Atal Bihari Vajpayee’s decision as prime minister in 1998 to conduct the Pokhran II tests, which eventually ended India’s nuclear winter.

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Tthe foreign secretary, S. Jaishankar, said on Monday that “France is the original strategic partner of India. It was the first country to be so designated. We have very close relations with them in defence, nuclear energy, space…” Yet, the media fails to grasp the unique nature of political relations between New Delhi and Paris.

Similarly, when history was made at Tuesday’s Republic Day parade with a foreign military contingent – French – marching along with Indian soldiers, none of the live television commentators, most of them retired high-ranking military officers, could explain its context, history or relevance.

India is today in the club of developed-cum-emerging nations, the Group of Twenty, because of what the French initiated in 2003. That year, thanks to the invitation of Jacques Chirac (then president), Vajpayee tentatively took his seat at a meeting of eight industrialized countries, collectively known as the Group of Eight, at the Hotel Royal in the resort town of Évian-les-Bains. Chirac’s invitation set in motion a train of events that culminated in the creation of the G-20, of which India is now a full member.

With rare exceptions like the nuclear deal, the Americans only make promises that are short on delivery. But it is the French who either deliver for India or show how what they cannot deliver themselves can be realized.


[Paraphrase of an editorial in The Telegraph by Newsnet intern Joy Bannerjee]