India-France Defence Bonhomie

France accorded the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour to Prime Minister Narendra Modi last month when he visited Paris and participated in the Bastille Day Parade. French President Emmanuel Macron recognised that India is a strategic partner, a friend, a giant in world history with a decisive role to play in the future. The vibrant exchange of defence-oriented commodities between both countries has propelled France into the esteemed echelon of being India's second-largest purveyor of armaments, a distinction surpassed only by Russia

By Aarti Bansal

Opinion

On 14 July 2023, Prime Minister Narendra Modi marked his special presence as the guest of honour at the majestic Bastille Day Parade in Paris. The parade commemorates the French Revolution and its foundational principles of liberty, equality, and fraternity, and symbolises the country’s commitment to democracy and freedom.

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On the tunes of Sare Jahan Se Accha, Hindusita Humara, this parade was a visually-splendid affair. A 241-member tri-service contingent of the Indian Armed Forces was led by the Punjab Regiment, along with the Rajputana Rifles Regiment. Rafale fighter jets from the 101 Squadron in Hasimara flew overhead in a breathtaking display of aerial acrobatics. It showcased India’s military prowess, and it sent a clear message to the world that India is a rising power on the global stage. French President Emmanuel Macron recognised that India is a strategic partner, a friend, a giant in world history with a decisive role to play in the future.

This celebration also commemorated the 25th anniversary of the India-France Strategic Partnership. During this significant juncture, Prime Minister Modi was accorded the distinguished accolade of the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour, the highest civilian distinction bestowed by France. In a concerted effort to fortify the interlinkages between the two nations, an ambitious “Horizon 2047 Roadmap” was ratified, delineating a trajectory for the evolution of the India-France Strategic Partnership leading up to the year 2047, which would coincide with the centenary of India’s independence. This comprehensive strategy is underpinned by three cardinal pillars of cooperation, namely security and sovereignty, environmental preservation, and interpersonal relations.

Addressing the imperative of navigating the challenges posed by China, an additional roadmap outlining future Indo-Pacific engagement was unveiled. As prominent stakeholders within the Indo-Pacific sphere, India and France embrace a specific responsibility in fostering the region’s tranquillity and security. In pursuit of this objective, both nations are crafting an “Indo-Pacific Cooperation Roadmap.” This framework encompasses propositions for an Indo-Pacific triangular development cooperation fund, poised to engender novel opportunities for entrepreneurial startups and innovation. Collective initiatives, encompassing the enhancement of maritime security, the establishment of an Indo-French health campus, the materialisation of the Indo-Pacific Triangular Development Cooperation Fund aimed at bolstering disaster-resilient infrastructure, and the facilitation of growth within clean and sustainable energy startups, collectively contribute to bolstering economic security and equilibrium.

India and France are crafting an Indo-Pacific Cooperation Roadmap, outlining future engagement in the region in view of the challenges posed by China. As prominent stakeholders within the Indo-Pacific sphere, India and France embrace a specific responsibility in fostering the region’s peace and security

In the domain of defence, a foundational facet of the India-France relationship, the present special visit witnessed the signing of several pivotal defence agreements. Beyond the acquisitions realised in 2008, India elected to procure an additional 26 marine-variant Rafale fighter aircraft (Rafale-M) for deployment within the Indian Navy, alongside the procurement of three more Scorpene submarines. Additionally, both nations pledged to expand their collaborative endeavours within advanced aeronautical technologies, epitomised by joint ventures for the development of a combat aircraft engine, as well as an engine tailored for the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) under the aegis of HAL (Hindustan Aeronautics Limited). Safran and DRDO will work together to develop a plan by the end of this year.

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Furthermore, an additional accord materialised between the Safran Helicopter Engine and HAL, underpinning the transfer of technology encompassing the forging and castings pertinent to the Shakti engine. Another Memorandum of Understanding was formalised, involving Garden Reach Shipbuilders and Engineers Ltd from India, and France’s Naval Group. The thrust of this collaboration centres on jointly crafting a surface vessel that aligns with the specifications of both the Indian naval requirements and those stipulated by international maritime forces. The indigenous evolution of these engines signifies France’s unwavering dedication to facilitating technology transfer, bolstering the “Make in India” initiative, and aligning with the “Aatmanirbhar Bharat” (self-reliant India) objectives.

A momentous stride was realised through the initiation of India’s Unified Payment Interface (UPI) within the landscape of France. This milestone positions France as the latest entrant within the expanding global footprint of India’s payment interface framework. The confluence of India’s NPCI International Payments Limited (NIPL) and France’s Lyra Collect culminated in the formalisation of an accord, heralding the introduction of UPI across France and Europe. Anticipated to be operational by September, the iconic Eiffel Tower in Paris is slated to emerge as the foremost establishment in France to embrace UPI for transactions. This digital consortium augments not only the prospects of tourism but also bilateral trade, thereby nurturing a heightened degree of economic and financial involvement between the two nations. Additionally, this collaborative endeavour serves as a compelling testament to the transformative potential of UPI on the global stage.

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Furthermore, a collective resolve to eradicate the scourge of pollution stemming from single-use plastic articles, along with the prohibition of such disposable plastic items, represents a noteworthy and unprecedented global paradigm. This concerted endeavour holds substantial potential to propel the ecological agenda of both entities considerably forward. The formalisation of a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the National Institute of Ocean Technology (NIOT) under the auspices of the ministry of earth sciences in India and the esteemed French sea research institution IFREMER, delineating collaborative research pursuits in domains encompassing the Deep Ocean Mission and the exchange of scientific and technical proficiencies, is met with approval and augments the fabric of bilateral scientific cooperation. Moreover, this collaborative momentum is poised to potentially yield viable commercial prospects in the foreseeable future.

Both nations have pledged to expand their collaborative endeavours within advanced aeronautical technologies, epitomised by joint ventures for the development of a combat aircraft engine, as well as an engine tailored for the Indian Multi-Role Helicopter (IMRH) under the aegis of HAL

Furthermore, a significant development transpired with the declaration of extended, enduring five-year visas tailored for Indian students embarking on higher education pursuits in France. Simultaneously, the overture extended to French academic institutions, soliciting their involvement in establishing campuses within Indian shores, augments the sinews of educational bonds and enriches the tapestry of cultural and interpersonal interactions. The private sector is poised to assume a pivotal role in galvanising initiatives that engender partnerships between the public and private spheres within academia, thereby fostering the genesis of curricula, while concurrently fortifying capabilities, knowledge acquisition, and competencies. This endeavour will also serve to propel initiatives that facilitate student exchanges.

The economic facet of the bilateral relationship was accorded paramount importance, evident as Prime Minister Modi and French President Emmanuel Macron engaged with an assembly of distinguished chief executive officers hailing from diverse sectors of both Indian and French commerce. Noteworthy sectors, encompassing climate action, energy transition, eco-friendly transportation and infrastructure, construction technologies, aeronautics, defence, automotive, life sciences, agriculture, financial services, as well as information and communication technology, emerge as fertile grounds for fostering augmented collaboration and fostering a more profound nexus among commercial entities.

The congenial investment environment underpinned by India’s accommodating and open foreign direct investment (FDI) policy framework, coupled with a series of recent policy interventions in domains spanning infrastructure, digital payment systems, startup enterprises, information technology, and renewable energy, collectively proffers a plethora of investment avenues to potential French stakeholders.

These dynamic initiatives resonate harmoniously within the overarching framework of mutual trust that envelops the India-France partnership, epitomising the joint commitment to reciprocal knowledge sharing and cooperative construction of pivotal technological elements and foundational underpinnings. Embedded within the annals of diplomatic history, the strategic partnership between France and India was inaugurated in 1998; however, its import trajectory has been particularly pronounced in the recent decade. Over this span, an intimate nexus has been nurtured, with existing collaborations being elevated and new connections being forged across a spectrum of domains, including those that bear sensitivity and sovereign implications. This robust accord finds reinforcement through a vibrant exchange of defence-oriented commodities, a dynamic that has propelled France into the esteemed echelon of being India’s second-largest purveyor of armaments, a distinction surpassed only by Russia.

The Eiffel Tower is slated to emerge as the foremost establishment in France to embrace India’s UPI for transactions. This digital consortium augments the prospects of tourism as well as bilateral trade, thereby nurturing a heightened degree of economic and financial involvement between the two nations

Both France and India take justifiable pride in their distinct departure from the role of passive beneficiaries, a testament to their nuclear status and formidable national military capacities. Their shared stance of intellectual autonomy resonates in their unique perspectives on global issues. The maxim coined by French President Emmanuel Macron, “allied, but not aligned,” harmonises seamlessly with the sentiment expressed by Indian Minister of External Affairs, Dr S Jaishankar, asserting India’s entitlement to an independent perspective. This ideological posture is succinctly encapsulated in the concept of “strategic autonomy,” denoting the competence to formulate decisions devoid of external pressures, particularly emanating from major powers, across pivotal policy domains. This underlying ideological harmony finds recurrent enunciation during bilateral exchanges between the two nations.

Conjointly, PM Modi and President Macron espouse a shared aspiration to function as architects of equilibrium, rather than adherents to established norms. This quest for a multipolar global order aligns with the principles championed by Nehru and de Gaulle in earlier epochs. This vision augurs the potential for substantial influence in shaping the international agenda for both New Delhi and Paris. In their pursuit of these aspirations and to mitigate reliance on hegemonic powers, France and India alike endeavour to cultivate novel and adaptable partnerships. A historical context marked by shared efforts to preserve strategic autonomy within the complex tapestry of geopolitics has fostered a bedrock of trust and pragmatic collaboration between these two powers. Curiously, while each acknowledges the value of the other, they remain steadfast in maintaining a relationship characterised by independence, rather than one of interdependence.

The writer is a post-graduate from School of International Studies, Jawaharlal Nehru University. The views expressed are of the writer and do not necessarily reflect the views of Raksha Anirveda