Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Bonjour les Giraffes

Have you heard of Red Giraffes?
You may believe that I am just back from a safari in Africa! But no, the giraffes are presently in the Land of Elephants and they are French.
They are part of “Bonjour India”, the Festival of France in India.
“A herd of red giraffes is slowly, gracefully moving on, balancing their flexible necks, …the silhouettes of the nonchalant giraffes glide over the avenues”, thus the invitation presented the life-size puppet show. But to experience it is different; the magic of the long slender necks on the streets of India is difficult to describe with words. Set up by La Compagnie Off, a French theater group, this outstanding show is the hors-d’oeuvre of the cultural extravaganza offered to the Indian public.
The Festival will consist of a series of exhibitions, concerts, literary meetings, film festivals, debates, conferences, food festivals and economic, educational and scientific exchanges. Organized by the French Embassy in India and Cultures-France, the cultural arm of the French Ministry of External Affairs, Bonjour India will visit 18 cities seeking to showcase the various facets of French (and Indian in some cases) contemporary performing arts and modern creation.
Jérôme Bonnafont, the French Ambassador had announced in November: "The eclectic mix of events lined up for Bonjour India promises to enthral India, thus, giving India an experience of different facets that define France.”
Though an Indian newspaper titled the festival, “The Gauls come to town”, most of the programs like the Giraffes reflect more a multicultural dimension than the usual ‘tribe’ image associated with the ancestors of the French. It is this spirit of a modern France which is displayed through the Alliance Française network and other cultural or academic institutions.
Over 200 events are scheduled during the 2-month long program, featuring 250 artists, musicians and scholars from France. The festival has been taken seriously not only by the French government (several ministries are involved in the sponsoring), but also the regional and municipal communities and number of French companies doing (or wanting to do) business in India.
The most exciting element of the Festival is that it has been designed for all types of public; everyone — youth, seniors, intellectuals, contemporary art lovers, gourmets, modern music freaks or oenologists (wine experts) can find an event to his/her taste.
Amongst the performances I attended, Marion Baglan, a young and good-looking soprano singer has been my favorite (apart from the Giraffes of course). Marion who has recently been awarded the Simone and Cinno del Duca Foundation Award for her promising career, displays a stunning voice when she takes on the classical repertory.
But you may prefer to go for the French gastronomy course, it is really your choice.

One could however ask, why this mega show?
Bernard Kouchner, the French Foreign Affairs Minister may say: “France and India share a common vision of the world …we share common values, those of democracy and liberty. …France is working towards building an international; order in which India and other emerging nations share full responsibility. …Because we share these common values, both India and France believe in the liberating power of culture,” We can’t however forget that we live today in a world lorded by business and money. It is therefore not only the ‘liberating’ aspect of culture which interests the French (and their Indian partners), but also the more down to earth, but equally important economic and strategic partnership.
Already 12 years ago, a tremendous boost was given to bilateral relations by the visits of President Chirac in January 1998 and Prime Minister Vajpayee’s trip to Paris later in the year.
The most striking feature of these visits was the setting up of a strategic partnership. Reaching Delhi, Jacques Chirac saluted India, “a nation which has affirmed its personality on the world stage”. He said that he had come to show that “France wanted to accompany India in its potent march [towards the future].” At that time already, the French President spoke of a possible nuclear deal with India and suggested to: “reflect on the ways to reconcile our common will to cooperate”. Ten years later, France was the first nation to sign a nuclear agreement with India.
As the Giraffes arrived in India, the Indo-French deal for civil nuclear cooperation came into force. Foreign Secretary Nirupama Rao and Jérôme Bonnafont exchanged instruments of ratification.
The civil nuclear cooperation covering a wide range of activities including nuclear power projects, R&D, nuclear safety, should contribute, according to the French side, to "further strengthening the deep ties of friendship and long-standing cooperation between the two countries".
The French company Areva has already been allocated the nuclear project site at Jaitapur (Maharashtra) to build two nuclear EPR power plants. Each of the two plants will have a capacity of 1,600 mw.
Is it not strange that the Indian media is only aware of the Indo-US nuclear deal, when the US has only little to contribute in the field?
Many more collaborations are in the pipeline.
Michelin, the French tyre-maker has recently signed a MoU with the government of Tamil Nadu to set up a tyre manufacturing facility near Chennai. Michelin plans to set up a truck and earthmover tyre plant dedicated to the domestic market. It will employ a 1500 work force; production should start by the end of 2012. The project means a whopping Rs 4,500 crores investment.
Then Renault! Speaking at the World Economic Forum’s India Economic Summit in November 2009, Carlos Ghosn, Renault’s Chairman announced that Renault’s new Chennai factory will be opened soon.
It is expected to have an annual capacity of 400,000 cars. According to Ghosn, the company was negotiating with Mahindra & Mahindra to bringing new products to India, probably in the low-price range.
Examples of close collaboration could be multiplied.
There are also the 126 Medium Multirole Aircrafts to be purchased by the IAF. France is one of the contenders with its fighter, The Rafale. Paris has invested a lot in this fighter plane, with little concrete returns so far, at least in terms of foreign orders. The aircraft possesses the latest and most advanced technologies including the AESA radar. It is said to have good stealth characteristics and a proven combat capacity.
As a retired IAF Air Marshal explains: “France is willing for unrestricted transfer of technology including source codes,” adding: “a deal with the French will be free of pressures that usually are associated with the US or Russia.”
Let us not forget that during his recent visit to Pakistan, US Defence Secretary Robert Gates declared: “we are very judicious in the sale of systems to India and have provided [India] with cargo aircraft and NOT the weapons system”.
Though the price of the Rafale is prohibitively high, there is an advantage that none of other competitors have: France has never tried to impose backdoor sanctions on India, even after Pokhran II.
In a few months, we will know who emerges as winner of the 11 billion mega dollars deal. Some observers say that a visit of President Sarkozy might be necessary to justify the price of the plane.
The giraffes will go (though they will remain in our memory), but this more tangible Indo-French partnership is bound to develop and with no string attached; this has not been the case with some other ‘friends’.
One regret only: Carla Bruni could not make it for the inauguration of Bonjour India. It seems that she is now the most popular ‘French’ personality in India. This also exemplifies France’s multi-cultural dimension.

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