India-France relations have transited from age-old colonial ties to a strong one focused on strengthening economic ties between the two nations. There have been hiccups due to stalled deals such as the Scorpene submarine deal.
But the perception of lack of communication between the two nations, the language barrier and India being a difficult destination for doing business due to red-tapism — all that has changed dramatically. What has helped is that France has invested heavily in India over the past two decades.Investing in India
According to a white paper released recently by industry body Ficci, “French establishments continue to grow in India. Linked to 394 major French conglomerates, there are now 1051 establishments or French entities in India, which are subsidiaries of either the companies or the groups based in France... the French companies in India today employ around 300 000 people (240 000 in 2013), have a turnover of more than $20 billion and have a minimum stock investment portfolio of $19 billion”. Tamil Nadu alone has investment from 80 French companies as the French consul general, Philippe Janvier-Kamiyama, mentioned recently.
There was a time when such a conglomeration of French companies in just one State would have been unthinkable.
French companies have a presence in diverse sectors such as automobiles, defence, telecom, retail, infrastructure, media and entertainment, and electronic machinery.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has stressed time and again that bilateral relations between nations follow economic ties.
This was something the late Prime Minister Narasimha Rao understood well. Rao visited France twice (1992 and 1995) to get France to invest in India. Rao’s visit led to the setting up of an Indo-French business forum, and the Indo-French Joint Commission. Also, between 1991 to 1994, French direct investment approvals doubled to $75 million.Ties that bind
While Modi goes to shop for his pet project of “smart cities” in France, he would do well to recall another Prime Minister who dynamically shaped Indo-French relations — former Indian Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, who conducted the Pokhran tests in May 1998.
France was the one major western nation that did not impose economic sanctions post-Pokhran, and this won it India’s friendship and cemented ties between the two countries.
In September 1998, Vajpayee visited France and invited French businessman to invest in India in a big way and gave his personal commitment to cementing stronger business links between the two countries.
India’s huge infrastructure woes, massive population, need for jobs and, therefore, investment, have been the key drivers of its foreign policy, where it has sought investment from other countries. Manmohan Singh, who took over from Vajpayee, continued the friendly policies adopted by the previous governments towards France. He had been, after all, Rao’s finance minister.
A study conducted by the Export Import Bank of India in 2013 says the total trade between the two countries grew almost five times to $10.2 billion in 2012 from $ 2.2 billion in 2001. France and India did achieve the target, therefore, of quadrupling trade between the two countries.
India’s strength is its huge domestic market and undeniable infrastructure needs given its young mobile population. Modi’s visit shall no doubt marry India’s needs with French strengths.
The writer is an assistant professor of French at Loyola College, Chennai