One year after PM Modi was born, in 1951, a young French Parliamentarian in his 40s,
It was a time when the French society, post-World War II, tasted the prosperity after long spell of resistance movement and recession. The centres of prosperity were mushrooming in the urban area of France. The rural regions of France were being deserted. Mr Aubert came up with the project of “Gites de France” literally meaning ‘French (rural) shelter’. He thought that if the houses, left vacant by people migrating to cities, are converted into ‘country lodges’ and if the tourists are provided with local cuisine specialties, the urban tourists who had not tasted that life will get attracted and the rural folks will get employment and the business. ‘Gites de France’ soon became a movement of development of tourist accommodations at rural homes. It started with the region of Basses-Alpes in the scenic background of mountains and hills, from where the Parliamentarian was elected.
Today, nearly 50,000 rural lodges exist throughout the France with 30,000 having bed and breakfast facilities. The rural business (direct and indirect) is equivalent of about INR 8.4 billion per year. France became first European country to start rural lodging and boarding and it became so popular that many other countries followed the scheme set by the Parliamentarian Mr Aubert.
Behind these figures of rural business there is the framework of rural tourism that concepts of living with nature, mitigating the pressure on urbanisation, even reverse migration by providing employment opportunities at rural level. More importantly it represents PM Modi’s vision of ‘ inclusive development.
Not sure if Prime Minister Modi would be offered baguette and croissant along with Indian tea by the President Hollande during his much publicized ‘nav pe charcha’ (discussion on boat). But surely, Modi’s slogan of ‘Make In India’ would not be easily savored by French, definitely not by President Holland, who is struggling with financial crisis that has brought his country to double-digit unemployment. His government wants the supermarkets in his country to set up special sections with purely French products as they do for organic goods. Steel giant Arcelor-Mittal over its plans to close certain French operations have been heavily criticized by the France’s socialistic government. It is evident that Modi has to navigate his discussion in the boat skillfully.
Trying to make USD 20 billion deal and play ‘ Rafale ’ card for the protection of India’s skies to please French Government is also not straightforward either. The issue of making French fighter-planes in India’s Hindustan Aeronautics Limited in the later phase has entered into impasse.
Indeed, the short terms gains in the trade-deals are important for France to tide over-to certain extent-the financial crisis that is gripping Europe and hence France. Ensuring national security by acquiring defense capability is equally important for India. But such laundry list of nearly all the past Franco-Indian talks need to cross the archaic diplomacy and avail long term opportunities.
France will be the host, later this year, to the most important international negotiations on Climate Change under United Nations Framework Convention on Climate Change (UNFCCC). In this pursuit of immediate gains, emerging opportunities of Indo-French collaboration in environmental and nature protection, sustainable and responsible investments, clean and renewable energy, sustainable tourism and social business should not be squandered.
When Mr Aubert initiated the rural tourism in 1951; India had just become the largest Republic nation in the world after prolonged struggle of independence. Eighty four per cent of the population of half a billion at that time lived in rural area. There were only five Indian cities with a population greater than 1 million and only 41 cities greater than 0.1 million population. Much of India effectively lived in 5.6 lakhs (half a million) villages. The bond between nature and rural population was strong. Most of the rural population got water from near by rivers and streams. They even worshipped the rivers and its water almost every day.
Come 2011-12: Sixty eight per cent of the population i.e. more than 800 million Indians, live in rural area in 6.4 million villages. There are now three cities with population of more than 10 million and 53 cities with population of more than one million. And the huge masses of young people there in rural area – more than 80 per cent of the new-borns in India take birth in rural area – are struggling to find the decent living. They finally land in cities abandoning their rural homes, heritage, nature and environment that supported their fathers, grandfathers and their grandfathers who lived with the nature for centuries.
Today in India, half of the population is under 25 and 65 per cent are below 35. Many of them are in rural area and would soon become urbanites. The Indo-French collaborative projects like skill building in rural tourism, rural hospitality would prove to be ‘out-of-cockpit of Rafale’ and more appropriate for the ‘inclusive growth’.
By Rajendra Shende, IIT-Alumni , Chairman of TERRE Policy Centre and former Director UNEP.