French President Nicolas Sarkozy’s visit to India last weekend saw the two sides working on a long-term objective of recasting their bilateral ties for the challenges and opportunities that lie ahead. Coming close on the heels of British Premier Gordon Brown’s visit earlier in the week, most of Mr Sarkozy’s packed two-day itinerary in the capital was directed towards this. The two sides signed a number of agreements in fields ranging from higher education to defence and trade, and promised to work together in realms like water, space, and the creation of Indo-French research laboratories.
New Delhi must also be pleased at Mr Sarkozy joining Britain to pitch for India’s case for a permanent seat in the UN Security Council and membership of the expanded G-8. The large business delegation that accompanied Mr Sarkozy underlined an imperative of modern day realpolitik: that political ties between states revolve around common economic interests. No surprise then that the two sides made such progress in their business interactions, committing themselves to achieving the ambitious target of reaching euro 12 billion in bilateral trade by 2012 — from the current euro 4.08 billion — and increase investments.
There is a general awakening regarding India in France. For a long while, French perceptions of India were caught in the old mould of “Bollywood, Maharajas, spirituality and poverty”. This will now hopefully change as cultural and commercial exchanges register a steady growth and both countries seek to assert themselves on the international scene. Cooperation in the civil nuclear domain is another crucial input of the Sarkozy visit, covering basic and applied research to full civil nuclear cooperation including reactors, fuel supply and management. It is a pity the compact will be in cold storage till India signs a safeguards agreement with the International Atomic Energy Agency and get a waiver from the Nuclear Suppliers’ Group on its controversial nuclear deal with the US. Interestingly, the new Indo-French defence deals point to changes in New Delhi’s relations vis-à-vis Moscow, as India turns to other countries for her defence needs. Many companies in the developed world obviously want a share of India’s mammoth market for armaments, and the French are clearly not going to sit on their hands.