MEA turns liberal, to treat Hollande's partner as spouse

FP

When French President Francois Hollande arrives in India for his first state visit on February 14, New Delhi will shed its conservative attitude and lay out the red-carpet for his partner Valerie Trierweiler, giving her the status of the first lady.

This will be a clear departure from the position India adopted in January 2008 when the then French President Nicolas Sarkozy was to visit with his girlfriend Carla Bruni. South Block had conveyed to Paris that Bruni wouldn't be recognised as the first lady, forcing the former model to drop out after she and Sarkozy had planned to visit the Taj Mahal.

An upset Sarkozy had returned to France and married Bruni within a week and the couple realised their dream of visiting the Taj together when they came to India in 2010.

This time too the protocol division of the External Affairs ministry held discussions about the status to be granted to Trierweiler if she accompanied Hollande. Most officials, sources told The Sunday Express, felt that the government should move with the times and grant the courtesy and protocol of a spouse. So, it was decided to extend all ceremonial honours a legally wedded spouse of a head of state or government is entitled to.

The status of spouse brings what in diplomatic parlance is called the "spouse treatment". The spouse is seated next to the Prime Minister's wife at the official banquet and chaperoned by a mid-level diplomat or sometimes the Indian ambassador's wife. They are also entitled to a separate motorcade and an elaborate programme is drawn out, such as a visit to a voluntary organisation, a historical monument or a cultural performance, depending on their interests.

Trierweiler, 47, a journalist who is twice divorced and has three sons, has been with Hollande since 2007 when he ended his partnership with party colleague Ségolène Royal.

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