International Affairs


Your Excellency Mr. Jacques Chirac,

President of the Republic of France,

Madame Chirac,


Distinguished Guests, Ladies and Gentlemen,

It is an extraordinary pleasure to be in France, a country whose significance to human history is altogether unique; a country that has moulded human thought; a country that has bestowed such precious gifts to world literature, and the Arts; has invested meaning to the very concept of culture and has refined and heightened the world's aesthetic sensibilities. To be in France is to be at a fountainhead of culture and civilization. The distinguished members of the delegation accompanying me, and my wife and the members of my family thank Your Excellency and Madame Chirac for your kind invitation and for the gracious hospitality you have extended to us in this enchanting city of Paris.

I recall, Excellency, your landmark visit to our country in 1998, when you were the Chief Guest at the celebrations of the 50th anniversary of India's Independence. That visit saw the re-affirmation of the faith that both our countries repose in the values of freedom and democracy and launched initiatives like the Indo-French Forum, Indo-French Strategic Dialogue and the Joint High Committee on Defence which have broadened and deepened the scope of our bilateral co-operation.

In history, the "misses" are as important as the "hits" and I would like to refer today to an episode of the Napoleonic wars. A letter was penned from Cairo by Napoleon Bonepart to Tipu Sultan of Mysore in which he said: (Quote) "You have already been informed of my arrival on the borders of the Red Sea, with an innumerable and invincible Army, full of the desire of delivering you from the iron yoke of England." (Unquote) The letter did not reach the Sultan. England no longer represents any iron yoke for India; indeed we now are linked to that country by golden threads of friendship. But Napoleon's demarche perhaps underlined the strategic affinity that links India and France and the responsibility we hold in creating a more equal and democratic international order in the multi-polar world.

India, Your Excellency, can never forget what it owes to France in the understanding of India by the Western world. India celebrates Duperron who translated the Upanishads in the 18th century, Romain Rolland who introduced and interpreted Ramakrishna, Vivekananda and Gandhi to the West, Gide who rendered Tagore into French, and Henri Cartier-Bresson who has captured Eternal India in brilliant photographs. India also celebrates the architect Le Corbusier and the film director Jean Renoir. And, of course, it applauds Andre Malraux who admired Indian thought and philosophy and did so much to disseminate it through his great books. It was with this background in mind that Prime Minister Nehru at the time of the merger of Pondicherry said, "it is important that Pondicherry remains a window to France". To-day with our expanded and intensified cultural relations, one might say that whole of India has opened a window on France.

To-day, Excellency, the people of India are astir. Astir with the knowledge that their country is now on an exciting path of growth, with a GDP growth rate of 6%. Our second generation of economic reforms has now been launched with sectors such as power, telecommunications, transport and insurance opening up. Also opening a completely fascinating new world for us is the information revolution - an area where India's ancient genius in Mathematics which discovered Zero and the decimal system, bids fair to take us to the heights of information technology. In this new situation in our country, the genius of France will find enormous opportunities for meaningful co-operation in the fields of investment, trade and enterprise. I should like to call for joint efforts by our two countries for building a strong and multifaceted bilateral relationship in the new century.

Excellency, in the world of to-day that has been knit into a globalized society only an attitude of tolerance and peaceful co-existence is relevant. Religious intolerance, extremist fundamentalism and methods of violence and terrorism have become entirely out of tune and out of place. In this context the Convention on The Suppression of Financing of Terrorism, sponsored by France, is a major step forward. We must go further and enter into a comprehensive International Convention on Terrorism which will signal the world's determination to fight this scourge of our times.

And beyond that, we must strive together to fashion a new world order in which no nation or class dominates or exploits another -- a pluralistic world order characterized by harmony and co-operation among the different centres of power. Such a world will have to be free from the menace posed by weapons of mass destruction. This is no longer a pious platitude, or an idealistic dream, but an urgent practical necessity. This goal beckons India, France and the European Union to embark upon a new voyage of cooperation, no less exciting than the earlier discoveries of the continents.

India applauds the great contribution made by France in the establishment of the European Union, its single market and in the arrival of what Your Excellency described in your speech in New Delhi as "the other great world currency", the Euro. India would like to emulate France and Europe in working towards a similar union in our part of the world. It was with this in view that we promoted the creation of SAARC in order to usher in a new era of regional co-operation in the South Asian sub-continent. In spite of all the obstacles and set-backs, we believe in and work for such co-operation following the example of Europe. In the meantime we see in the European Union a tower of strength for the balance and stability of the world, and a congenial partner for the developing countries like India for constructive co-operation. The first-ever India-EU Summit is to be held on 28th June 2000 in Lisbon. This Summit will, we believe, be a milestone in our relations with Europe and help to institutionalize our relationship for our mutual benefit. We greatly look forward to working with France, especially during its Presidency of the EU which will commence this July. We believe that it will be in our bilateral interests as well as in the interest of the world.

Excellencies, I invite you to join me in a toast:
- to the good health and well being of the President of the French Republic, H.E. Mr. Jacques Chirac and Madame Chirac;
- to the progress and prosperity of the friendly people of France; and
- to the enrichment of the traditional friendship between India and France.

Thank you

Jai Hind