FRENCH CONNECTION
Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Diplomatist|April 2021
Ties between India and France may be one of a few such bilateral relationships which is largely devoid of any bitter chapters from the past.
DR SRIPATHI NARAYANAN

It lies largely on the convergence of interests and the limited points of divergence on a whole range of issues of mutual concern. The foundation for the bilateral at one level can be traced to the early decades of the Indian Republic, when the transfer of the French colonial possession Pondicherry, now Puducherry, to the Indian Union was a peaceful process. The de facto transfer happened in 1954 and by mutual consent. This was followed by de jure transfer two years later in 1956. Though it took the French Parliament time till 1962, owing to internal differences, nothing was done to alter the status on the ground during the period. It was devoid of the kind of strains and bitterness attaching, for instance, to India taking over the Portuguese colony of Goa, Daman and Diu, in 1961, after New Delhi’s requests did not evoke a favourable response from Lisbon. Portugal recognised the transfer only in 1974.

Notwithstanding the Anglo-French animosities in Europe, which they took to their colonies, product of the famous political Revolution nearer home, the French were sympathetic to the cause of ‘Liberty, Equality and Fraternity, across the world. Thus, a lesser-recognised fact of the pre-Independence era was that Pondicherry had provided shelter to freedom activists like Sri Aurobindo and Tamil poet, Subramania Bharati when the British-Indian police was after them. The foundations of post-Independence bilateral ties were thus laid on this solid foundation, and the resultant bonhomie is reflected in the broad areas of cooperation that range from outer space to nuclear science and from military sales and maritime cooperation.

Defence Cooperation

The most visible domain of India French ties relates to military and security ties. While the bulk of India’s military hardware is of Soviet/ Russian stock, and the US, in recent years, France has been a silent partner through the Cold War and post-Cold War decades. French-made systems are integral to the Indian defence systems, covering the full spectrum from submarines (Scorpène class) to combat aircraft. Before Rafale fighter jets, which are among the latest Indian defence procurements overseas, the Indian Air Force (IAF) had inducted Mirage-2000, beginning 1985, again against heavy competition.

What more, unlike other defence imports, India’s French connection has been devoid of ideological hiccups of the past American kind. Nor have they been adversely affected by political or military developments in the region, or elsewhere in the world. France does not promote and project its defence commerce from global rooftops, with a result they are mostly devoid of avoidable sensationalism or controversies that have at times affected similar supplies from other nations. That includes the supply of spares when India needed them the most.

Going Beyond Security

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