Dr Bertrand de Hartingh, Counsellor for Cooperation and Cultural Affairs,and Country Director of Institut Français is an alumnus of France’s most prestigious university ENS Ulm – alma mater of many Nobel laureates such as JeanPaul Sartre. He received his Ph.D. from Sorbonne University with the highest honours and is a researcher,writer and diplomat.He has lived and worked in America,European and Asian countries for various institutions (French Foreign Service, British DFID, World Bank, etc.) and speaks seven languages fluently.

Apart from being Counsellor for Cooperation and Cultural Affairs – Director of the French Institute in India,at the French Embassy, he is also head curator for the next edition of Bonjour India. In an interview to Sarah Berry, he talks about his stay in India, the Bonjour India campaign and the importance of peopleto-people contacts in enhancing bilateral relations between India and France.

People-to-people connect is of prime importance in order to bring countries closer. What are your views?

You see, it is very important to understand that we are not here for ‘us’; we are here to create links between France and India, thus we are here to understand India. The latter is important in order to build a long-term relationship based on synergies in diverse fields and to ensure the cultivation of a deeper bond and a symbiotic relationship.

An initiative should highlight what our countries can do together in terms of technological, social and environmental innovations; it should focus on the story of our rich relationship and the dynamics thereof. Most importantly, the endeavour should scale up and move forward into the future.

What are the various initiatives undertaken in order to enhance people-to-people connect?

There have been many, which are still continuing. Besides French language being taught at Alliance Francaise, which is a premier institute, and has been witnessing increasing numbers of students enrolling for diverse French language courses, a number of scholarships are also made available for Indian students to avail. This year, around 5000 Indian students are studying in France, as opposed to around 3.000 two years ago.

Campus France offices in India provide assistance to students through options of study in France, as well as preparing students for study in the country through ‘prep sessions’. We just opened offices in Jaipur and Indore, bringing the number of offices in India to 13 against 9 two years ago. There is also a programme called Teach English in France, which invites ‘English language assistants’ to the country. By living and working in France, the knowledge of the French language and culture is enhanced, while simultaneously enabling the individuals to share their English language skills through the medium of teaching at various colleges, schools or training institutions.

Then there is the Job Fair, which is a platform that pairs Indian professionals, who have formerly studied in France, with promising job opportunities in India. Encouraging platforms for researchers on jointresearch programmes is also being actively promoted. Last, but definitely not the least, there is the Bonjour India 2017- 2018 programme.

Bonjour India is anextensive programme covering a plethora of fields.What does the programme promise?

The three key words of the programme are innovation, creativity and partnership. This is the crux of the programme. Then there are three pillars: smart citizen, high mobility and go green. In 2013, Bonjour India saw the organisation of approximately 150 events and 40 shows, with over 420 French and Indian artists and experts participating, and the generation of over 1300 press articles! This time round, the intent is to make the event bigger and better. So, if you are an enterprise, an NGO , an institution or an individual, and wish to nurture a project for your community with Bonjour India or involve your ideas and resources to develop IndoFrench projects, we say “your creativity is our limit’.

Please describe your connection with India.

My connection with India dates back a long time. I have visited India before my posting in New Delhi too, and have always been impressed by the country’s depth and strength. India is a very impressive soft power and is growing at an amazing pace; we need to tap this potential. That is exactly why people’sinitiatives are so important. And, that is exactly why we are here.