A visit for “starting a new phase of partnership” between Paris and New Delhi. Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi is the guest of honor at the July 14 ceremony on the Champs-Elysées. Alongside Emmanuel Macron, he must attend the traditional military parade, in which the Indian armed forces participate. The Elysée sees this meeting as an opportunity to “set ambitious new goals for strategic, cultural, scientific, academic and economic cooperation” between India and France.
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For some environmental leaders, “roll out the red carpet for India’s far-right” nevertheless constitutes a “major fault”. “One must either be totally ignorant of the current internal political context of the subcontinent (Indian), be totally cynical to make (Narendra) Modi the guest of honor of the French Republic on the occasion of its most symbolic day of the year”judge the signatories of a forum published in Release may’s beginning. “From (her) Coming to power in 2014, India (…) has continued to regress in terms of respect for human rights and fundamental freedoms.”
France, India’s second arms supplier
Human Rights Watch agrees. “India claims to be the largest democracy in the world, but in reality many rights and freedoms are hampered there”, denounces Meenakshi Ganguly, responsible for South Asia of the NGO. Over the past decade, Narendra Modi’s Hindu nationalist party has passed a series of laws aiming to “marginalize minorities”, especially Muslims, explains Christophe Jaffrelot, political scientist at the Center for International Research at Sciences Po Paris (Ceri). He also undertook to muzzle both the media and the opposition, intimidating them with “legal proceedings or prison sentences”Meenakshi Ganguly list.
“It is worrying to see that France invites, on the occasion of a day celebrating freedom and equality as fundamental values, a leader who attacks these same values in his country.”Meenakshi Ganguly, South Asia Director of Human Rights Watch
A choice all the more “cynical”according to Ingrid Therwath, journalist and doctor of political science, that the parade is an opportunity to “present the catalog” of the tricolor military industry to Narendra Modi. Third largest arms exporter in the world, France hopes to sign several contracts with New Delhi. The Indian government gave its agreement in principle, Thursday, July 13, for the purchase of 26 Rafale combat aircraft and three Scorpene submarines. The conditions and the amount must still be negotiated with Paris. But “These deals are in the billions”, according to Jean-Joseph Boillot, economist at the Institute of International and Strategic Relations (Iris). He thus recalls the historic order for 36 Rafales, concluded in 2016 with Dassault Aviation for 8 billion euros.
“The Thales group is also massively present in India and its defense systems have been used to equip the border with Bangladesh”, he continues. Thanks to these contracts, France was India’s second arms supplier in 2022, behind Russia, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, quoted by RFI.
A strategic ally against China
To these new potential sales, we must add the other economic partnerships “in the field of IT, with Capgemini, or aviation with Airbus”, notes Jean-Joseph Boillot. India also represents a gigantic market in terms of nuclear power and water purification, specifies Ingrid Therwath. While the EU is trying to reduce its trade dependence on China, European capitals have their eyes fixed on the most populous country in the world.
“India is an already industrialized country, with giants in certain sectors such as the pharmaceutical industry. It therefore also represents an opportunity to diversify our sources of supply, even if it does not have the same competitiveness as China in this day.”Jean-Joseph Boillot, economist and adviser at Iris
This desire to get closer to New Delhi goes beyond the sole framework of economic interests. “Geopolitically, the strategic rival of the West is China, emphasizes Jean-Joseph Boillot. In the context of the rise of ‘Global South’ (a group of countries in the southern hemisphere), which challenges the Western order, India is seen as a potential ally against Beijing.” For Christophe Jaffrelot, it “is perceived as a counterweight to Chinese influence in the Indo-Pacific zone”, where incidents have increased in recent months, for example in the Taiwan Strait.
Emmanuel Macron is not the first to welcome Narendra Modi with open arms. At the end of June, Joe Biden invited the Indian Prime Minister for a state visit to Washington, in order to “strengthen the shared commitment of (their) two countries for a free, open, prosperous and secure Indo-Pacific”. A month earlier, the leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) was “welcomed like a rock star” in Australia, according to the channel ABC*. Twice asked about criticism of Narendra Modi, Prime Minister Anthony Albanese replied that “it was not at (him) to comment” Indian politics.
Will the rapprochement undertaken by Westerners seduce the Hindu nationalist? Nothing is less certain, seen “the nervousness” history of the Indian executive to engage in formal alliancesestimated The Atlantic. The Modi government remains committed to multilateralism, “in the extension of the doctrine – however very different – of non-alignment of his country during the cold war”notes Ingrid Therwath.
A “bet” of Westerners
The war in Ukraine confirms that this doctrine remains valid. The conflict has “complicated the reports” with New Delhi, notes the journalist. “India is a historic ally of Moscow, on which it depends in particular for its oil and arms needs”, she explains. So far, Narendra Modi has refused to condemn the invasion launched by Vladimir Putin, while providing humanitarian aid to kyiv and promising to work for a peaceful solution.
“New Delhi is helping Russia circumvent Western sanctions, but kyiv’s allies are still counting on India’s support in their standoff with Vladimir Putin.”Christophe Jaffrelot, political scientist at Ceri
“Westerners have military, geopolitical and commercial interests in having good relations with India, insists Ingrid Therwath. The consequence is that we talk more about contracts and joint military exercises than about human rights and social issues in India.” To serve “short and medium term interests”we “actively helps a democracy”judges the expert.
Christophe Jaffrelot also questions the “bet on india” of Westerners. “They hope that New Delhi will support them when they have to resist Chinese pressure”turning a blind eye to the blows delivered by Hindu nationalists to human rights, he sums up. “But it is not excluded that India ends up having a regime just as authoritarian as its neighbor, warns the politician. And that she prefers to ally with Beijing and Moscow rather than with the West.”