The French connection - Thrust on IT, retail

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  • Published 25.06.07

A full-fledged consulate office, a “bigger and better” address for The French Association — soon to be called Alliance Francaise again — fresh thrust on IT and agri-business and luxury brands like Louis Vuitton and Chanel wading in on the back of the retail revolution…

French ambassador in India Dominique Girard is convinced that Calcutta is on the threshold of “something big” after years of stagnation, and has a packed agenda to further the French connection with a city that “has the charm of colonisation Indianised”.

In town on a two-day visit, Girard pledged to prioritise a full mission for Calcutta. “It will take some time, but we are considering a full-fledged instrument with great desire to be able to do so,” the envoy told Metro. He promised to move The French Association from its cramped AJC Bose Road address to a bigger and formatted venue in a few months.

Girard admitted that for many years, French business was “prejudiced” against the ruling Left in Bengal and looked elsewhere. “But now, Bengal is a focus front for most French corporate houses and they want to catch up on lost time. For instance, Capgemini wants to quadruple staff strength in Calcutta,” he said.

While IT and food-processing will remain the thrust areas, “fruitful alliances” in the small and medium enterprises segment are very much in the offing, he said. He had a “long and interesting” discussion with chief minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee.

“It would be irresponsible to ignore Nandigram and Singur. But clearly, there’s a realisation in the government that a course correction is required. It’s silly to rush to conclusions and French industry captains are convinced Bengal is much bigger than Nandigram,” he smiled.

Girard felt exchanges both at the bureaucratic and business levels could be stepped up several notches, given the “positive energy” flowing through Calcutta.

“French companies should now come to the forefront of the advancement of Bengal’s economy and we are spreading the good word in France. We can also help with transfer of knowledge and technology in preserving the splendid heritage structures of Calcutta,” he declared.

Girard’s dream is a “permanent French presence” in the Salt Lake area, which he felt, represents the “new Calcutta” that should be showcased.

“After the fire at Park Mansion, the Calcutta chapter of the association suffered a lot. But it has come out with flying colours. We will leverage our unique network of Alliance Francaise centres to reinforce the cultural bond Calcutta enjoys with France,” he said.