French President Francois Hollande is on his first visit ever to India but the lack of public interest will be a challenge for him.
The French are mostly seen as vendors of expensive ware and any talk of a deeper relationship just sounds forced to most.
Yet in making
India the first Asian country for a bilateral visit, ahead of his visit to China in April, he has sent out a clear signal that the relationship with India is of high importance to France.
The big question is how high India will place France in its priorities.
That Hollande has a friendly personality will certainly help. He smiles at cameras and people more than any of his predecessors did.
It’s almost as if he has nothing to worry about. His tie is often askew, with one sleeve often longer than the other and strands of hair flying out of place.
French magazine Le Point even noted he wears the same Swatch all year round. He’s a far cry from Nicolas Sarkozy who had airs of a grumpy monarch about him.
Hollande lives in an apartment in Paris with his partner Valerie Trierweiler and two of her children. The Elysee Palace is more his office than a home.
The first couple have no domestic help. Unlike the Sarkozy-Bruni couple, they don’t go off on exotic holidays.
In contrast to Michelle Obama, who has someone following her around the White House with three or four different Blackberrys on a platter, Trierweiler is not someone who wants to play the role of first lady with a flourish.
Hollande may want to go down in history as a “normal” president but his challenges are quite extraordinary.
There was much talk in France about how Hollande had matured as a head of state by taking on the garb of chef de guerre (war chief) in Mali.
But Hollande’s huge challenge now is to prove that his decision was right and the Mali situation won’t turn into Afghanistan or worse.
No one believed Hollande would be able to keep his promise of bringing France’s deficit to 3% of GDP by the end of 2013.
The aim will now be to achieve the goal by the end of his term in 2017.
As for his “pro-growth, anti-austerity” stance, it clashes with Merkel’s position, making it harder to maintain the facade of the Franco-German couple’s unity.
David Cameron is threatening to lead Britain out of the EU, making matters worse.
Hollande has, however, risen above his challenges to bring in an inclusive and tolerant style of governance.
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