THE ANNOUNCEMENT ON 31 JANUARY 2012 that India had awarded Dassault Aviation exclusive negotiating rights for an estimated $10.4-billion contract to supply 126 Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft was hailed by the French as a lifeboat for the shipwrecked. The country is facing hard times: In January, Standard & Poor’s stripped France of its AAA credit rating. Economic growth for the next 18 months is expected to stall, and unemployment, already at a 12-year high of 9.3 percent at the end of 2011, is projected to climb to 10.7 percent by the end of 2012.
There was a time, not so long ago, when India’s role in Western political campaigns was limited to that of a scapegoat, with outsourcing of jobs to India serving as a popular bogeyman on which to pin the blame for domestic job losses. But this time around, the government led by President Nicolas Sarkozy has drafted India onto the stage to play a knight in shining armour. Though Dassault has cautioned that it may be too soon to pop the champagne corks—the negotiations are just beginning at this point—the company’s stock soared 18 percent on the Paris Bourse upon news of the announcement.
For Sarkozy, the Dassault announcement could not have come at a better time. His approval ratings have remained steadily dismal in the months leading up to the May 2012 presidential elections, and polls indicated that opposition Parti socialiste (PS) candidate François Hollande would win the final round of voting by a margin of as much as two to one over Sarkozy. Sarkozy’s party, the conservative Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP), took a beating in last September’s elections, which gave the Socialist Party its first absolute majority in the French Senate since the founding of the Fifth Republic in 1958. Working-class voters are expected to be the critical swing vote that will carry France’s next president to victory, and they have been hit hard during Sarkozy’s presidency: A report published in the French business daily Les Echos in December 2011 revealed that 880 factories in France had shut down between 2008 and 2011, throwing 100,000 workers onto the unemployment rolls—the worst manufacturing contraction in France since the oil shock of 1973. The PS quickly dubbed Sarkozy the “president of deindustrialization”. “Made in France” became every candidate’s campaign slogan, including Sarkozy’s.