The French Defence Minister Jean Yves Le Drian at a talk in IDSA straightforwardly presented some of the points in the ‘Defence and National Security White Paper 2013’ (the last such document was issued in 2008). He emphasized the fact that both India and France prized “sovereignty” and “Strategic autonomy” as a strong basis for “convergence” of values, etc. He hard pitched the Rafale MMRCA (how Dassault Avions has had an India connection since the sale of the Ouragon fighter in the Fifties), and highlighted joint projects with DRDO on the anvil — scorpene SSKs, and short range missiles, and promised more such joint development and collaboration projects, but expressly ruled out any cooperation in the cyber war field which he said has to be done on a “national” basis.
The talk became fairly convoluted, however, when he sought to draw personal linkages with India — he was born, he said in a port-side district in Brittany called India, where a ship christened ‘Orient’ was being built for trade with India! This mercifully came at the very end and the connection sought to be made was bit of a stretch. More interestingly, he drew attention to the defence cooperation connection in the 18th century when the Anglo-French war in Europe had its repercussions in India where the French colonialists led by Dupleix clashed with their British counterparts — with the French naturally supporting native kings (Tipu Sultan) fighting the British, or who relied on French military advice and training (Ranjit Singh).
Le Drian sounded almost rueful about a lost “älternative world” had the French lorded it over the English. Of course, like the Pondicherrians, or is it now Puducherians (which sounds like an abuse!), instead of the English language, we’d all be speaking French and been a part of the Francophone cultural universe. The problem is would the French have not been more reluctant to let go of India than Britain, and how hard would they have resisted? The record suggests that like in Indo-China and Algeria, Paris would have been loath to let go of India and the parting would likely have been violent. On the plus side,the post-independence Indian leadership would not have been infused with the nonsense of Gandhian nonviolence and pacifism and general complacency that has so crippled Indian foreign and military policies post-1947, and we’d have had the satisfaction of winning freedom the hard way — not handed us by the Brits on a platter. This last was not because of Gandhi’s satyagraha and other myths, but because of the vulnerability of the Raj from a politically more alive Indian Army, which during WWII was being subverted by the pull of Netaji Subhas Bose’s militant nationalism.
But back to the present, to a direct question about whether France, unlike in the past, would help India develop its armaments design capacity — yea all the pesky things like source codes, flight control laws, and stuff like that, the French minister replied that Paris would be happy to help India acquire “command of manufacture” of weapons! In other words, France would be damned if it was going to set India up as an independent and autonomous producer of whole weapon systems. At least he was frank, because elsewhere in his address he added that “India’s security supported French economic interests”. In other words, the inter-governmental mechanism that the French have mooted is essentially to ensure transfer-of-technology only for manufacture. Thus, as far as France is concerned it’s business as usual, the same old “client-supplier” relationship Le Drian promised to overturn, staying firmly in place!