As many as 10 Rafale fighters have been handed over to India so far, on schedule despite the pandemic, which is a remarkable performance. Five have been ferried to India, the next five could arrive soon depending on IAF’s schedule. France is committed to defence technology transfer to India under the ‘Make in India’ programme, French ambassador Emmanuel Lenain has said.

“The next batch of five Rafale fighters has been handed over to India, they are in France and it is up to the IAF now when to fly them here. IAF has excellent pilots,” Lenain told ET in an exclusive interaction close on the heels of the French defence minister’s visit to India.

Over the past decades, France has been part of defence production projects in India. When asked about the expansion of French presence in the defence sector under ‘Make in India’ programme, the envoy claimed that France has always been a pioneer in defence production in India and is particularly committed to technology transfer under the Make in India programme.

Referring to the French commitment to the strategic partnership, Lenain said the Covid situation has not impacted the schedule of Rafale delivery to India and all 36 will be delivered to India as assured by 2022.

When asked about the prevalent situation along the Line of Actual Control and the recent dialogue between India and China, the envoy quipped that the situation can only be resolved through peaceful dialogue and saluted the fact that India chose this path. “France is against the fait accompli policy, anywhere in the world.”

It is not just defence partnership that is witnessing a boost. Indo-French Indo-Pacific partnership is acquiring new dimensions, including through a new trilateral dialogue involving Australia. “The trilateral has tremendous potential. France has territories in the Indian Ocean Region and Pacific Ocean region.

Besides defence partnership that includes the ambitious Varuna exercise, India and France are exploring projects in third countries in the Indo-Pacific region. “Our focus is on sustainable and viable projects which contribute to the development of the recipient countries and provide them with sustainable options.”

As part of the partnership for the Indo-Pacific region, the two sides will also focus on the development of the blue economy and fighting climate change, according to the envoy.

He hoped that Varuna naval exercises can be resumed next year. It may be recalled that Reunion Island (French territory) in the Southern Indian Ocean is a key pillar of cooperation between Delhi and France for the region.

French soft power has many admirers worldwide. The language is no longer a barrier for Indian students wishing to obtain degrees from French institutes of higher learning, since English-language programmes are widely available. “As known, France was the first country to reopen visas for Indian students this year, thus displaying our commitment. Indian students can avail scholarships offered by our institutes to receive top level education.”