The next tango with Paris

India, France must integrate the strands of bilateral cooperation in the maritime domain

There will be much to celebrate when the president of France, Francois Hollande, arrives in Delhi on Valentine's Day to review the state of bilateral relations with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and chart out an ambitious future course.

Two decades of political romance with Paris has produced one of the most productive bilateral relationships for Delhi. By choosing India as one of the first major foreign destinations, Hollande is signalling his determination to deepen the partnership that was founded and built by his two predecessors, Nicolas Sarkozy and Jacques Chirac. Whether it was Delhi's integration into the global nuclear order or the recognition that its rise on the global stage is inevitable, it was Paris that first articulated big new ideas about India in the last two decades. This week, the two leaders have work to do finalising the terms for many large transformative projects that are in the pipeline. Two of them have grabbed most of the headlines.

One is the plan to build six large nuclear reactors in Jaitapur, Maharashtra. Besides the reactors, France is committed to developing "full civil nuclear cooperation" with India. Delhi expects French cooperation in building commercial uranium enrichment facilities that would fuel the new Indian reactors as well supply other nuclear power stations in the region. More broadly, the civil nuclear collaboration between Delhi and Paris could help develop India as a joint base for providing nuclear services in Asia and beyond.

The other is the deal to supply 126 Rafale medium multi-role combat aircraft (MMRCA) to the Indian Air Force. This is not just a one-time transaction to equip the IAF with modern fighters but facilitates a significant expansion of India's defence industrial base. In the civilian nuclear arena as well as in defence, France promises to differentiate itself from other suppliers on the critical question of technology transfer. This makes the role of France a very special one in the development of India's strategic capabilities.

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