New Delhi: From supporting India’s stance on the Kashmir issue at the United Nations Security Council, building its defence ecosystem to batting for the country at critical multilateral forums, Paris has never shied away from promoting New Delhi’s interests on the global platform.
Just a week ago, India was able to thwart China’s attempts at discussing the Kashmir issue at the UNSC due to the firm support provided by France along with other members of the council.
Ever since New Delhi scrapped Article 370 that took away the special status of Jammu and Kashmir while converting that state into a Union Territory, France has consistently maintained that it is a bilateral matter between India and Pakistan and that there was no need to mediate between the two.
This even as other countries, mainly the US, have highlighted concerns on human rights and even offered to mediate.
The bonding between New Delhi and Paris has cut across political parties irrespective of who ruled both these countries.
While the defence cooperation between both nations is well-known, a lesser-known fact is that it was because the French took the lead that India was able to join three of the four critical nuclear non-proliferation regimes — the Missile Technology Control Regime (MTCR), the Wassenaar Arrangement and now the Australia Group.
“France has always been that partner for India, which has been beside New Delhi when everyone else was apprehensive,” said Mohan Kumar, former Indian Ambassador to France, and the current chairman of the Research and Information System for Developing Countries (RIS).
France has also been batting consistently for a permanent seat for India at the UNSC.
“We have done it before and we will continue to fight for India for its adequate representation at the UNSC,” said Rémy Tirouttouvarayane, spokesperson, Embassy of France in India.
From Toofani in 1950s to Rafale in 2020
Defence cooperation is the one area that literally defines the bilateral relationship between New Delhi and Paris.
It was in 1953 when the defence ties between India and France took off with the procurement of the ‘Toofani’ combat aircraft made by French defence-giant Dassault Aviation. Fast forward to 2020 and India is waiting to receive its first batch of Rafale fighter jets that are expected to arrive by May-June this year.
The relationship did hit choppy waters under former Prime Minister Rajiv Gandhi over trade issues. Matters, however, were quickly resolved when then French President Francois Mitterrand visited India for the second time in 1989.
When the whole world was criticising former Prime Minister Indira Gandhi’s move to declare Emergency in the country, it was former French President Jacques Chirac, who visited New Delhi in his capacity then as France’s Prime Minister in 1976 stating it was an “internal matter” of India.
An age-old friendship
If Russia is regarded as India’s age-old defence partner, then the French are no less. From Mirage warplanes to Scorpene submarines to multi-role Rafale fighter jets, the French have never shied away from filling India’s war-chest.
“The French have proved to be India’s true strategic friend. They have never given the same arms to Pakistan that they give to India, unlike the Americans,” Kumar said.
India also continues to remain one of the important partners for France within the Indo-Pacific region. In the new version of the French defence policy, rolled out last year, France has made it clear that it sees India as a partner along with Australia, the US, Japan, Malaysia, Singapore, New Zealand, Indonesia and Vietnam.
“We are working with India now on the Indo-Pacific. It is one of the key partners in this initiative for France,” Tirouttouvarayane said.
The regular high-level bilateral exercises Shakti (Army), Varuna (Navy) and Garuda (Air Force) embody the strategic partnership bonding France and India.
“While other countries are only waking up now to the concept of Indo-Pacific with the focus shifting from the Atlantic, France understood this much earlier and made India its key partner in the Indian Ocean region,” said Rakesh Sood, former Ambassador of India to France, and now a distinguished fellow, Observer Research Foundation.