The contrast between the presence of the French president, François Hollande, at the Republic Day celebrations and a similar visit last year by Barack Obama, president of the United States of America, is emblematic of how misplaced India's public perceptions are of where its core interests lie. Without an iota of doubt, France represents the most important diplomatic relationship for this country at its present stage of growing up. Here are a few examples that cover a large expanse of India's foreign engagement. Fifteen years ago, Capgemini - a pioneering company founded by the legendary entrepreneur, Serge Kampf, in the French city of Grenoble in 1967 - employed a mere hundred Indians. As Hollande and the prime minister, Narendra Modi, reflect within a few months on their decisions made in New Delhi this week, Capgemini's work-force in India would have crossed one lakh men and women.
Aadhaar is now a household word in India. Even the poorest of the poor, who may still not have the national identity card, have heard Aadhaar mentioned at some point. Aadhaar, which is fundamentally changing the way transactions of all variety in daily life are being conducted, would not have become a reality without help from a French company, Safran Morpho, founded in 1924 under its original name of Sagem. This company uniquely developed for India's "unique identification number" project the necessary biometric technology: it was one of the biggest challenges of its kind in the history of the human race, registering over a billion people under one scheme.
In these times of terrorist threats all round when even one's own shadow can be suspect, Safran Morpho helps keep India safe. It supplies explosive, narcotic and threat detection systems for this country's major airports. It also helps secure the Indian air force, the ministries of home and external affairs in addition to public sector undertakings which have a security component, such as the Electronics Corporation of India Limited in Hyderabad. When Hollande told Modi in a conversation in Chandigarh on Saturday that one in every three Indians is able to telecommunicate because of a Safran Morpho subsidiary, Syscom Corporation, the prime minister thanked the visiting president for the parent French company's role in helping to run the national rural employment guarantee scheme and the Rashtriya Swasthya Bima Yojna.
It is an irony in political terms that Modi, who is attempting to transform manufacturing in India into a national mission with his "Make in India" slogan, is finding that Bihar, where his party recently got a thorough drubbing, is forging ahead significantly in creating factory jobs. It is a French company, Alstom Transport, which will manufacture 800 electric locomotives for Indian Railways at a new plant it will build in Bihar's Madehpura. To start with, jobs are guaranteed there over the next ten years that it will take to supply these locomotives. Investment in this project is estimated at Rs 19,800 crore. Alstom Transport was the first firm to offer foreign direct investment in rail projects after the government liberalized foreign direct investment in the railways.
Similarly, after the Modi government raised permissible FDI in the insurance sector from 24 to 49 per cent, France's AXA was the first to respond. It immediately applied to the government to enhance up to the new limit its stake in the joint ventures with the Bharti group, bringing in fresh foreign capital.
There has lately been criticism that the National Democratic Alliance government is neglecting public health and is insensitive to the welfare needs of the poor. In pharmaceuticals, even the previous United Progressive Alliance has been under pressure from big pharma to dilute India's self-reliance on medicines for those who cannot afford the high cost of vaccines and drugs.
Therefore, it is refreshing that last month, Sanofi, a French pharmaceutical giant, announced that it will manufacture an injectable polio vaccine in Hyderabad, not only for domestic use, but also for export. For such activities, Sanofi made Shantha Biotechnics an Indian affiliate of the parent French company in 2009.
For those unfamiliar with Sanofi, it was originally the multinational, Hoechst, which has been operating in this country since 1956.
Notwithstanding such an impressive French record in helping India meet its vital needs, Hollande's visit did not generate even a fraction of the public interest that Obama's visit generated at this time last year. Weeks before Obama was to arrive for last year's Republic Day celebrations, everybody who thought of himself as 'important' left no stone unturned and went to incredible lengths to secure an invitation to attend President Pranab Mukherjee's banquet in honour of the US president.
The pressure on Rashtrapati Bhavan was so intense that Mukherjee's staff had to shift the banquet from the usual ornate and historic hall to a new facility, which was far less impressive but many times larger. State banquets, by their very nature, cannot be carnivals, so invitations for the Obama dinner had to be limited. Those who were disappointed then tried for invitations to the president's traditional "At Home" on January 26 so that they could get a glimpse of Obama, even if they could not get to shake his hands and those of the First Lady.
The listing above of Indo-French engagement is only a partial enumeration of how important Hollande's visit is. The strategic nature of Indo-French relations has been dwelt upon in this column in great detail since France was the only big power - not even Russia, initially - to support Atal Bihari Vajpayee's decision as prime minister in 1998 to conduct the Pokhran II tests, which eventually ended India's nuclear winter. For that reason, it deserves no repetition.
It was commendable that the foreign secretary, S. Jaishankar, made it a point to emphasize on Monday that "France is the original strategic partner of India. It was the first country to be so designated. We have very close relations with them in defence, nuclear energy, space..." It is a sad reflection on the state of strategic thought outside the government in this country that until the foreign secretary said so, none of the pundits who become highly voluble at a passing mention of the White House thought it necessary to mention the unique nature of political relations between New Delhi and Paris.
Similarly, when history was made at Tuesday's Republic Day parade with a foreign military contingent - French - marching along with Indian soldiers, none of the live television commentators, most of them retired high-ranking military officers, could explain its context, history or relevance. For Mukherjee, although he is now out of active policy-making in Rashtrapati Bhavan, this must have been a moment of intense satisfaction. As defence minister in the Manmohan Singh government, it was he who opened up India's military to greater international engagement that went beyond routine joint military exercises or goodwill port calls by naval vessels.
It is worth remembering with Hollande in our midst that India is today in the club of developed-cum-emerging nations, the Group of Twenty, because of what the French initiated in 2003. On a balmy June morning that year, thanks to the far-sighted and out of the box invitation of Jacques Chirac (then president), Vajpayee tentatively took his seat at a meeting of eight industrialized countries, collectively known as the Group of Eight, at the historic Hotel Royal in the resort town of Évian-les-Bains on the banks of Lac Léman. Chirac's invitation set in motion a train of events that culminated in the creation of the G-20, of which India is now a full member.
With rare exceptions like the nuclear deal, the Americans only make promises that are short on delivery. But it is the French who either deliver for India or show how what they cannot deliver themselves can be realized.
When I opposed Aadhaar in 2010 , I was called a BJP stooge. In 2016 I am still opposing Aadhaar for the same reasons and I am told I am a Congress die hard. No one wants to see why I oppose Aadhaar as it is too difficult. Plus Aadhaar is FREE so why not get one ? Ram Krishnaswamy
First they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win. -Mahatma Gandhi
In matters of conscience, the law of the majority has no place. Mahatma Gandhi
“The invasion of privacy is of no consequence because privacy is not a fundamental right and has no meaning under Article 21. The right to privacy is not a guaranteed under the constitution, because privacy is not a fundamental right.” Article 21 of the Indian constitution refers to the right to life and liberty -Attorney General Mukul Rohatgi
“There is merit in the complaints. You are unwittingly allowing snooping, harassment and commercial exploitation. The information about an individual obtained by the UIDAI while issuing an Aadhaar card shall not be used for any other purpose, save as above, except as may be directed by a court for the purpose of criminal investigation.” -A three judge bench headed by Justice J Chelameswar said in an interim order.
Legal scholar Usha Ramanathan describes UID as an inverse of sunshine laws like the Right to Information. While the RTI makes the state transparent to the citizen, the UID does the inverse: it makes the citizen transparent to the state, she says.
Good idea gone bad
I have written earlier that UID/Aadhaar was a poorly designed, unreliable and expensive solution to the really good idea of providing national identification for over a billion Indians. My petition contends that UID in its current form violates the right to privacy of a citizen, guaranteed under Article 21 of the Constitution. This is because sensitive biometric and demographic information of citizens are with enrolment agencies, registrars and sub-registrars who have no legal liability for any misuse of this data. This petition has opened up the larger discussion on privacy rights for Indians. The current Article 21 interpretation by the Supreme Court was done decades ago, before the advent of internet and today’s technology and all the new privacy challenges that have arisen as a consequence. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP Rajya Sabha
“What is Aadhaar? There is enormous confusion. That Aadhaar will identify people who are entitled for subsidy. No. Aadhaar doesn’t determine who is eligible and who isn’t,” Jairam Ramesh
But Aadhaar has been mythologised during the previous government by its creators into some technology super force that will transform governance in a miraculous manner. I even read an article recently that compared Aadhaar to some revolution and quoted a 1930s historian, Will Durant. Rajeev Chandrasekhar, Rajya Sabha MP
“I know you will say that it is not mandatory. But, it is compulsorily mandatorily voluntary,” Jairam Ramesh, Rajya Saba April 2017
Here is what the Parliament Standing Committee on Finance, which examined the draft N I A Bill said.
1. There is no feasibility study of the project]
2. The project was approved in haste
3. The system has far-reaching consequences for national security
4. The project is directionless with no clarity of purpose
5. It is built on unreliable and untested technology
6. The exercise becomes futile in case the project does not continue beyond the present number of 200 million enrolments
7. There is lack of coordination and difference of views between various departments and ministries of government on the project
What was said before the elections:
NPR & UID aiding Aliens – Narendra Modi
"I don't agree to Nandan Nilekeni and his madcap (UID) scheme which he is trying to promote," Senior BJP Leader Yashwant Sinha, Sept 2012
"All we have to show for the hundreds of thousands of crore spent on Aadhar is a Congress ticket for Nilekani" Yashwant Sinha.(27/02/2014)
TV Mohandas Pai, former chief financial officer and head of human resources, tweeted: "selling his soul for power; made his money in the company wedded to meritocracy." Money Life Article
Nilekani’s reporting structure is unprecedented in history; he reports directly to the Prime Minister, thus bypassing all checks and balances in government - Home Minister Chidambaram
To refer to Aadhaar as an anti corruption tool despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary is mystifying. That it is now officially a Rs.50,000 Crores solution searching for an explanation is also without any doubt. -- Statement by Rajeev Chandrasekhar, MP & Member, Standing Committee on Finance
Finance minister P Chidambaram’s statement, in an exit interview to this newspaper, that Aadhaar needs to be re-thought completely is probably the last nail in its coffin. :-) Financial Express
The Rural Development Ministry headed by Jairam Ramesh created a road Block and refused to make Aadhaar mandatory for making wage payment to people enrolled under the world’s largest social security scheme NRGA unless all residents are covered.