Hello Mr. President!
It was with great pleasure that the Alliance Françaises in Chandigarh and Delhi welcomed François Hollande, the President of France since 2012. President Hollande was on a high-octane visit to India as the Chief Guest for the Republic Day celebrations in 2016. For this 3-day trip, he was accompanied by Laurent Fabius (French Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development), Ségolène Royal (French Minister of Ecology, Sustainable Development and Energy) and Fleur Pèlerin (French Minister of Culture and Communications). The visit marks a watershed development in Indo-French relations. The two countries have a long history of strategic cooperation and are working towards expanding partnership in areas of smart cities, solar energy, counter-terrorism, rail infrastructure and space.
This visit was a first in more ways than one – the Chandigarh International Airport has finally earned its title as the presidential A330 landed here directly from France. François Hollande is the fourth Head of State to visit the city and the second French official after Georges Pompidou, the Prime Minister in 1965. A brief visit coupled with a packed schedule made a visit to the Alliance Française de Chandigarh impossible. However, the President of AF Chandigarh Mac Sarin, the professors and some students met the French delegation at the Taj Hotel.
On their arrival, the French Minister of Foreign Affairs, Laurent Fabius, interacted with the entire team for about 20 minutes, posed several questions and congratulated the students who had cleared the C2 level. It was President Hollande’s turn to speak next for a few minutes before the delegation left for the round of scheduled visits to the Capitole, the Rock Garden and to the inauguration of the Archaeological Museum. Our team of professors was at the forefront for translating and interpreting throughout the week and especially on the day of the visit. A memory Chandigarh will cherish indeed!
For a long time to come, January 25, 2016 will remain etched in the memory of those who were present at Alliance Française de Delhi. President Hollande chose to meet the Indian Foreign Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj at AF Delhi‘s Art Gallery. Simultaneously, Fleur Pèlerin proceeded to sign an agreement on cultural cooperation with her Indian counterpart Mahesh Sharma in the médiathèque at Alliance Française de Delhi.
Much to the surprise and satisfaction of all present, François Hollande did not limit himself to the official program. He wished to explore the premises and hence was able to appreciate the resources and the services offered by the médiathèque. He also met about a dozen Indian students and obliged them with several selfies. For the Alliance Française de Delhi, this day marked an exceptional moment of recognition. The entire Management Team mobilised itself to ensure the occasion’s success. It was our pleasure to note that the Elysée, the French Embassy and Indian Authorities unanimously lauded our hospitality.
The visit culminated on January 26, 2015 when François Hollande became the fifth French leader to be a Chief Guest at India’s Republic Day celebrations – the maximum number from any country so far. Earlier, leaders from France have graced the occasion in 1976, 1980, 1998 and 2008. Significantly, French soldiers marched down the Rajpath on Republic Day along with Indian troops, a first for any foreign army. An agreement between Airbus Group and Mahindra (for manufacturing helicopters) and three MoUs under the ‘Smart City’ program (with the state governments for the cities of Chandigarh, Nagpur and Puducherry) were among the 16 pacts signed between India and France. The MoUs cover a wide range of sectors like urban development, urban transport, water and waste treatment and solar energy.
An exclusive clip of President Hollande’s speech on the Alliance Françaises in India, captured by Pierre-Yves Meunier (Deputy Director and Academic Director, Alliance Française de Delhi) can be seen below:
Dominique WAAG (Director, Alliance Française de Chandigarh),
Jean-François Ramon (Director, Alliance Française de Delhi) and
Siddharth BHATT (Rédaction AF Magazine Inde-Népal)