The red carpet is rolled out. Narendra Modi, the Indian Prime Minister, is Emmanuel Macron’s guest of honor at the July 14 ceremonies. This choice marks the 25th anniversary of the strategic partnership between the two countries. To mark the occasion, a contingent of the Indian armed forces will parade Friday morning alongside the French forces. But it will above all be a question for the two Heads of State “to initiate a new phase of partnership” and to set “new ambitious objectives for strategic, cultural, scientific, academic and economic cooperation”, announces a press release.
What to expect from this visit?
This meeting is primarily placed under the sign of business. With its 1.4 billion inhabitants, the country represents a gigantic market, where foreign companies are still not very established. On the occasion of the G20, in February, the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, showed his desire to forge industrial and commercial partnerships in the country. “The big French companies, even if they have already broken their teeth there, are eyeing the Indian market”, confirms Charlotte Thomas, political scientist specializing in India.
This invitation also demonstrates the military ties between the two countries. India is a historical customer of French arms, and has already acquired 34 Rafales and 6 Scorpene submarines in the past. This Thursday, she gave her agreement in principle for the purchase from France of 26 Rafale fighter planes, in the Navy version for aircraft carriers, and three Scorpene submarines.
Why does France want to ally with India?
This arms race illustrates the search for strategic allies in the Indo-Pacific region. France, already present through its overseas territories, sees the peninsula as an important ally. The objective is to “rely on India, which is presented as a virtuous democracy in the face of China”, describes Charlotte Thomas. The two countries are waging a war of influence in South Asia. “For India, these invitations are also a way of saying to China: “we are here”, while the two countries are in competition for several markets, in particular infrastructure, in the region”, specifies a French journalist. expatriate in Delhi, who wishes to remain anonymous.
The country wants to be “multi-aligned”, and refuses for example to firmly condemn Russia in the conflict which opposes it to Ukraine. Everyone is trying to make a pact with India, as evidenced by the visits with great fanfare of the Prime Minister to Australia or the United States. “Everyone is courting Modi, confirms the journalist. In particular for fear that India will see the neighbor. “However, notes Charlotte Thomas, economically, “India does not have the means to cut itself off from China”, it is therefore illusory to see in this country an “absolute” ally.
Why is this visit controversial?
The Narendra Modi visit does not go unnoticed in France, however. On Twitter, the League for Human Rights “denounces this invitation which once again sends a catastrophic signal in terms of the negation of our democratic values”. According to Charlotte Thomas, many abuses against minorities in India (detention camps, raids against Christians and Muslims, inter-community riots) are regularly committed.
She also notes a criminalization of the opposition, while the opponent Rahul Gandhi is the subject of libel proceedings and has been forced to leave Parliament. Despite everything, Narendra Modi was democratically elected and enjoys enormous popularity in India. “It is an honor for India and the Indians to be invited and to be represented by Narendra Modi”, explains the journalist.
An image of “leader of the free world” for Emmanuel Macron?
This meeting with a decried head of state is intended in particular to send a message internationally. “Emmanuel Macron is reinventing himself, giving himself back the image of leader of the free world, of the one who speaks to everyone”, analyzes Charlotte Thomas. For Narendra Modi, who is surely thinking of the 2024 general elections – and his third term – the operation is in any case successful.
More than a means of gaining a foothold in Europe – “the European Union exists very little for India, which relies more on bilateral partnerships” – this invitation offers it strong exposure on the diplomatic scene. Especially since France still retains, despite recent controversies, the strange image of “the country of human rights”.