By Ranvir Nayar
Paris, Aug 23 (IANS) The late summer sun had already set when French President Emmanuel Macron and Prime Minister Narendra Modi emerged from their extended meeting held in the historic halls of the Napoleonic château at Chantilly, about 60 km north of Paris, on Thursday evening. A meeting that was expected to be over in 60 minutes spilled over to beyond 90 minutes. And when the two leaders emerged to address the press, it was clear why.
In his rather long opening address, Macron made it clear, point by point, exactly how similar French and Indian views had come to be on a range of regional, international and global issues and that the Indo-French partnership, already time tested, would continue to evolve into a very unique, robust and resilient relationship that could be a benchmark for other countries as well.
Modi was content to watch as Macron undertook a strong defence of India and the Indian leader on the controversial issue of the abrogation of Article 370 vis-à-vis Jammu and Kashmir. In his address, Macron dwelt at length on how Modi had reassured him that the move, an entirely sovereign right of India, was crucial to combat terrorism as well as bring stability to the region that has been fraught with tensions and terror for the past several decades.
In focusing on terror and stability, Macron chose to ignore the complete lockdown and total blackout of communication and information in parts of the state since the move weeks ago. In what must have been music to Modi’s ears, Macron also gave it a miss to raise, at least in public, the reports of mass arrests and protests.
Macron concluded by saying that he would be speaking with Pakistan Prime Minister Imran Khan in a few days and would reiterate his stance that both India and Pakistan should work together to bring peace and stability to the region, combat terror and resolve the issue bilaterally.
Macron also announced French support for the Indian space programme, notably the mission to Venus where the French would participate, though he did not elaborate on the extent and form of the cooperation. He also said that France would train Indian astronauts for the future manned space mission.
Macron also heaped wholesome praise on India (read Modi) for the commitment to the climate change treaty signed in Paris and dwelt on the International Solar Alliance that both the countries had announced in 2015 and which was formally launched with 73 member states last year during Macron’s visit to India.
He said that in view of the rising temperatures and increasing demand for cooling, whether industrial, commercial, residential or indeed farming, France and India would now work to develop carbon neutral and carbon friendly solutions for cooling technology. The two nations have signed a MoU on this and are expected to start working together. He also said that India had agreed to aggressively revise downwards its own carbon emissions, ahead of the commitments made at Paris in 2015.
Another major element of the meeting was obviously the defence cooperation between the two nations and Macron made key references to how after the timely delivery of the first Rafale, that is expected in about a couple of weeks from now, France and India would use the government to government agreements to enhance their defence cooperation.
He also underlined that France remained committed to the Make in India policy of the Indian government, notably for the defence sector. The Presidential references clearly indicate further orders from India for not only more Rafales, but also helicopters, ships and submarines as well as equipment for India’s land-based forces. In what would have sent French defence manufacturers; hearts soaring, Macron made references to agreements in these areas within the next few months, perhaps on the occasion of a return visit that Macron could undertake to India in a few months from now.
Macron also brought up the much delayed Jaitapur nuclear power plant that France wants to build in Ratnagiri district of Maharashtra. Even though both the countries have been discussing the project since 2009, it remains pretty much on the drawing board and that too in fairly initial stages.
So, at the event Macron announced a very bold and ambitious deadline of concluding the basic discussions on the
project by the end of this year and moving to a commercial agreement by early next year. The two nations have also decided to intensify their cooperation in the domains of smart cities, sustainable development, cybersecurity and data storage as well as in tertiary areas like tourism and education.
”Three years ago, we had set a target of receiving 10,000 Indian students here in France by 2020. I am happy to say we have already achieved it. So, either the target was too low or we did a fantastic job. I think it was a bit of both. So, now we have set a more ambitious target of 20,000 Indian students in France by the year 2023,” Macron said.
At the end of the evening, as the two leaders retired to their elaborate dinner in the château, both must have built up quite an apetite, even if they did get pretty much what both had set out for from their meeting. For France, an assurance, almost surety, of several large deals and a bigger share of the Indian economic pie, while India gets some of the most modern defence equipment as well as intensifying of already close ties with a key arbitrator of power in Europe and several other parts of the world.