The next tango with Paris
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Prime Minister Singh and President Hollande are not expected to dot the many 'i's and cross the 't's of the two agreements. Their task is to recognise the special salience of the current moment in bilateral relations, demonstrate maximum flexibility in what each has to offer and push the two bureaucracies into clinching final agreements. Hollande needs early closure as part of his effort to revive the sclerotic economic growth in France, and the PM can't afford endless haggling, the default Indian negotiating style, on these two strategic projects.
As they wrap up the pressing nuclear and defence agenda from the past and look ahead, one important new area of cooperation presents itself — maritime security in the Indian Ocean. India's domestic discourse on the Indian Ocean has long been shaped by the US and more recently by China. The awareness of France as an Indian Ocean power and the appreciation of the benefits of a strong naval partnership with it remain rather limited.
Although India's naval engagement with the US has grown manifold in the last decade, there are many inhibitions that prevent the realisation of its full potential. While the US is likely to remain a major Indian Ocean power for a long time to come, its priorities are shifting to the Pacific, where it must cope with the challenges to its long-standing naval primacy.
With America's rapidly declining dependence on imported oil from the Middle East, its unfolding pivot to Asia and the fiscal pressures to cut military expenditure, the importance of the Indian Ocean is likely to progressively decline in the coming years for Washington.
Meanwhile, Delhi must indeed prepare for the inevitable emergence of China as a full-fledged naval power in the Indian Ocean in the longer term. In the interim, as India seeks to consolidate its natural advantages in the Indian Ocean, France is a compelling naval partner.
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