FRANCE IS A long-standing partner of India. From crucial defence purchases to nuclear technology, Paris has often helped New Delhi overcome barriers imposed by technology denial regimes. The recent visit of French President Emmanuel Macron to India points to a significant upping of the relationship.
There were two pointers to that end. The usual defence partnership was, of course, much in evidence. But even more importantly, Macron said France could be a destination for Indian talent. In recent years, Indian students and skilled professionals have found their usual destinations—the US and Britain—closing their doors. In the US, technology professionals have found themselves on the receiving end of legislation inspired by domestic politics. The halcyon days of techies moving seamlessly from Bangalore to Silicon Valley are effectively over. In Britain, student visas, the first step in a European career, are now very tough to get. Brexit will ensure that Britain will be a closed island soon.
Macron wants to make maximum use of this self-defeating trend in the US and Britain. However, the practical aspects of how manpower movement will be managed are yet to be worked out. But the signal is clear: if the US and Britain don’t want talent, France will step in.
Taken together, the defence relationship and the potential of manpower movement promise to give Indo-French bilateral relations an edge over ties with other countries. With Britain, India has had to constantly fend off issues such as Kashmir, Punjab and human rights. There was no defence relationship, except for the import of a few items in the 80s and 90s. With the US, the equation is much better, but the vagaries of the Donald Trump age keep everyone on tenterhooks. France, obviously, cannot be ‘a US’, so to speak, but it can be what an Indian commentator called ‘another Russia’.
Stepped-up defence purchases—submarines and fighter aircraft—coupled with greater French politico- military involvement promises just that.