July 14 is celebrated as France’s National Day commemorating the taking over of the ‘Bastille’ state prison by ordinary French people in 1789 marking the symbolic fall of the Bourbon monarchy’s ancien régime and signalling the beginning of the French Revolution. While the day is significant for the French everywhere, this year, India will officially join in the celebrations as Prime Minister Narendra Modi has been invited as the Guest of Honour at the Bastille Day Parade. “Maximum impact and maximum outcomes” is how French envoy to India, Ambassador Emmanuel Lenain has termed the upcoming visit of PM Modi to France.
25 Years of Strategic Cooperation:
In 1998, India and France entered into a strategic partnership indicative of their convergence in a range of international issues including a more expansive bilateral relationship. This year, both the countries are celebrating 25 years of the formalisation of that strategic partnership. While India and France have joined forces on a number of issues since 1998, both leaders, Prime Minister Modi and President Emmanuel Macron are eager to further expand their strategic engagement. Defence & security, space and civil nuclear cooperation constitute the principal pillars of the Indo-French Strategic Partnership.
Modi and Macron have brought fresh energy to the bilateral relations between the two countries, moving forward from strategic engagement to strategic coordination. Modi’s first meeting with Macron in 2017 was supplemented by a spate of high-level interactions including the visits of Indian air and naval chiefs to Paris and of the French defence minister, national security adviser, and foreign minister to New Delhi, taking the strategic cooperation forward, along multiple axes. This was followed by the State Visit of President Emmanuel Macron and First Lady Brigitte Macron to India from March 2018. Both leaders held restricted and delegation-level talks, signing as many as 14 intergovernmental agreements, including one for the provision of reciprocal logistics support between the respective Armed Forces. Modi subsequently visited France in August 2019 at the special invitation of President Macron for the 2019 G-7 Summit.
In 2016 then French President Francois Hollande was Chief Guest of India’s Republic Day celebrations, and a French military contingent also marched on alongside Indian soldiers on the Republic Day. France was in fact the first ever foreign country to have been invited to participate in India’s January 26 Republic Day parade. During his 2017 visit to Paris, PM Modi laid a wreath paying homage to the memory of the Indian soldiers who died fighting in defence of France in the two world wars.
This year a 269-member tri-services contingent of the Indian Armed Forces will be marching alongside their French counterparts during the Bastille day parade. This reciprocal gesture holds immense symbolic value and is especially meaningful given that in both World Wars I & II, Indian soldiers participated in millions, including in the battlefields of France. The Rafale fighter jets of the Indian Air Force will also form part of the fly-past during the parade. In 2016, India and France had signed a €7.87 billion Intergovernmental Agreement (IGA) for the purchase of 36 Rafale multi-role fighter jets. It is believed that among the large defence contracts, cooperation in trade, there is a possibility for a deal on the naval version of the Rafale fighter jets.
Prior to the Rafale deal, India and France had concluded the contract for six Scorpene submarines in October 2006. All six vessels were built under technology transfer at the Mazagaon Docks Ltd. Project implementation. Since the building of the Sriharikota launch-pad with French technical assistance, both nations have collaborated consistently in the field of space research finally issuing a “Joint Vision for Space Cooperation” during the visit of President Macron to India in March 2018.
Condemnation of Terrorism:
A significant paradigm of France’s persistent support to India has been its determined condemnation of terrorism. Paris has backed evidence put forth by India, with regard to the involvement of Pakistan in the 26/11 Mumbai attacks at both the United Nations and other bodies like the FATF. Censuring Pakistan for providing a safe haven to terror outfits, in May 2011, France announced a temporary freeze on arms sales to Pakistan.
Their ‘Joint Working Group on Counter Terrorism’ is the mechanism for undertaking cooperation on counter-terrorism which is the cornerstone of the strategic partnership. Both countries have on several occasions reaffirmed their unequivocal condemnation of terrorism in all its forms and manifestations, including cross-border terrorism.
In 2021, Following a spate of brutal religiously-motivated attacks, President Macron vowed to ramp up the fight against radical Islamism and terrorism and his top advisor, Emmanuel Bonne said that “During this crisis, after the campaign against us, our relations with Pakistan probably are at a historic low. This is not exactly what we want, we assume it because our priorities and language are clear.” Amidst criticism from Pakistan and Turkey, Bonne expressed gratitude to India for providing support to France’s steps to prevent radical Islamism.
France and India have both advocated for the proscription of terrorist individuals and pursuing sanctions and designations against terrorist entities and individuals. Both nations have often reiterated the need to ensure that Afghan territory does not become a source of radicalization and terrorism.
Robust Economic Relationship:
There is a growing French interest in establishing its presence in Indian markets. The launch of a ‘Fast Track Mechanism’ for investors in 2020 contributed to the broadening of economic links. Primary imports from France include aircraft, spacecraft, and parts thereof, nuclear reactors, boilers, machinery, and mechanical appliances. High value goods exported to France from India include mineral oils & products; bituminous substances; mineral waxes, machinery, and mechanical appliances. In November 2022, India and France discussed exploring defence collaboration and manufacturing under India’s Make in India ‘AtmanirbharBharat’ project.
Discussions are ongoing for the signing of a Free Trade Agreement between India and the European Union. Earlier this year, India’s Commerce and Industry Minister Piyush Goyal attended the India-France Business Summit and CEOs roundtable meet in Paris, and held discussions with French Minister for Foreign Trade, Economic Attractiveness and French Nationals Abroad Olivier Becht over issues related to market access. More than 1,000 French establishments are already present in India, in variegated sectors such as defence, ITES, consulting, engineering services, heavy industry et al, making France a significant source of FDI.
France is a resident power of the Indo-Pacific given the presence of two of its overseas departments, Mayotte and Réunion, and its inter services bases in the UAE and Djibouti. Competitions from the ascent of China as a global power, new convergences, and alignments therefore have significance for both New Delhi and Paris. Strategic autonomy and the Indo-Pacific region have emerged as important talking points for both countries.
Modi and Macron have been holding pull-aside meetings on the sidelines of various global fora such as the G7 and G 20. At the upcoming visit of Modi for Bastille Day, issues of mutual bilateral and multilateral interest such as strategic autonomy, defence cooperation, civil nuclear cooperation, space, counter-terrorism, energy, alongwith developments in Afghanistan and the Indo-Pacific region, will continue to find prominence in the discussions.