He is one of the thousand invitees at the reopening of Taj Mahal Hotel’s 21-storey. But unlike most others who will head homewards, Jérôme Bonnafont will stay at the hotel for the night. The Ambassador of France to India wants to convey the message that things are “back to normal”.
“It’s a message of friendship and an expression of sympathy since I too was in the city during the three days of terror. The hotel is special for me,” said Bonnafont who first stayed in the hotel’s heritage wing in 1988.
As terrorists sprayed bullets inside the Taj and Oberoi-Trident hotels on November 26, Bonnafont – he was at the Four Seasons Hotel, Worli – was trying to get in touch with the 10 European Parliamentarians who were dining at a Taj restaurant.
“They were rescued and stayed at the French consul general’s home. The other European nationals were given special papers. We arranged a special flight where 80 Europeans were taken back home,” said Bonnafont, adding that of the 50 French nationals in both the hotels, two died. Earlier in the day, he had met industrialist Ratan Tata at the Bombay House in connection with the ‘Year of France in India’ next year.
Post terror attack, the French government has offered India increased cooperation in terms of training, equipment and special force to tackle terror. “A couple of exchanges are getting prepared. The Indian government is also open to discussion for our services. Of course India must establish their needs first,” said Bonnafont, adding that France’s special intervention and vigilance forces could then be at India’s disposal. The French security agencies are helping in the 26/11 investigations.
With India on the development track, Bonnafont stressed the terror attack will not affect economic prospects with India. “Business delegations are coming to India after the attack because they want to show that things don’t change. Terrorism might happen anywhere, not just in India,” he said.
Bonnafont, who started his diplomatic career at the French Embassy in India in 1986, pointed that in eight years the French government would invest 10 billion Euros in sectors like energy, environment, infrastructure, automobile and aeronautics.
The former spokesperson at the Presidency of French Republic said plans were on track for Europe’s leading hotel brand Accor to set up 50 hotels in three categories — Ibis, Sofitel and Novotel — across India by 2012.
It’s almost one month since the attack but Bonnafont is all praise for Mumbaiites. “I am impressed by the clam that Mumbai displayed. Despite feelings of anger and sorrow, the city was dignified. That’s appreciable.”