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Asia-Pacific

Why is French President Hollande in India?

media Welcome to India - Prime Minister Narendra Modi reuters/Adnan Abidi

French President François Hollande began a three-day visit to India on Sunday. On arrival at Chandigarh, the northern city designed by pioneering French architect Le Corbusier in the 1950s, he played down hopes of the rapid signing of a contract for 35 French-built Rafale fighter jets. Apart from that long-awaited deal, what else can Hollande hope to achieve in India?

The French president will be chief guest at India's Republic Day parade on Tuesday, after accepting an invitation that is viewed as one of the greatest honours New Delhi can bestow on a foreign leader.

He is to discuss the Rafale deal with Prime Minister Narendra but said before arrival that the process could take some time.

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As on his previous visit in 2013, Hollande is accompanied by about 50 French business leaders, most of them involved in energy, transport and urban infrastructure.

India is Asia's third largest economy and, with predicted growth of 7.5 per cent in 2015-2016 hopes to overtake China, so there are other items on Hollande's agenda:

  • The CEO Forum: after being greeted by Modi and a tour of Chandigarh's renowned rock garden, Hollande was to address the meeting, the occasion for discussions between India's business community and the large French business delegation travelling with the president;

  • Infrastructure: France estimates India's needs in this field over the next 20 years are worth 680 billion euros - Modi has plans to build 100 "smart cities". France has decided to invest in three of them - Chandigarh, Pondicherry and Nagpur;

  • Nuclear power: On Monday Hollande and Modi are expected to announce a roadmap for French companies building six nuclear reactors in western Maharashtra state - more than five years after a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement was signed, according to the Times of India;

  • International Solar Alliance (ISA): Announced by Modi during the Cop21 climate summit in Paris, the ISA brings together 121 countries lying between the Tropic of Cancer and Tropic of Capricorn. Hollande and Modi will inaugurate its interim secretariat in Delhi on Monday;

  • Politics: Hollande is to meet Indian President Pranab Mukherjee, Vice-President Mohammad Hamid Ansar and Sonia Gandhi, the leader of the opposition Congress party;

  • Terrorism: Fighting terror will be one of the two leaders' main points to discuss, French diplomats say. The two countries face "similar threats" from "religious fundamentalists who attack us", Hollande told the Press Trust of India, referring to last year's Paris attacks. Pro-Pakistani Islamists attacked an airbase in Pathankot, near the Pakistani border at the beginning of the month, one of a series of terror attacks the country has faced, along with communal violence and tension.

"The most important aspect of economic relations between India and France is the investment of French companies in India and this is also the Indian model of development," comments Jean-Joseph Boillot, the author of India for dummies.

Unlike the export-oriented Chinese economy, India plans to develop the domestic market, he told RFI. "They are interested in joint venture, getting investment in the flagship programme of Make in India and the response of the French companies has been tremendously positive. On the different sides, apart form Rafale, Airbus is much more active, you have Safran manufacturing equipment for the engines. You have on the railway side Alsthom plus General Electric announced investment project of 2.5 billion euros to manufacture locomotives in India."

Hollande and Modi have a good relationship, according to Boillot.

"Modi and Hollande are very pragmatic leaders," he points out. "Despite differences in terms of ideology - clearly Modi is a nationalist leader, right-wing, and Hollande is more left-wing - but both are very pragmatic"

Both face a huge challenge in the international economic crisis.

Modi has a two-fold programme of Hindu nationalism and restoing economic growth, he says. "I think since Modi took office the economic priority has been put forward much more than the political and ideological programmes. So both leaders are discussing the same subjects with the same concerns on their mind."

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