No doubt, it is in India’s interest that Emmanuel Macron has been re-elected as the President of France, rather than Marine Le Pen, who wants a France for the French, and jobs for the French. The US and many other European countries do the same when they restrict working visas, so that their own people can secure jobs, and so that unemployment numbers go down. Le Pen is thus slightly xenophobic, even if 45 per cent of France voted for her, not a mean number — and India might not have been one of her priorities.
We often hear terms like ‘Indo-French strategic partnership’ or ‘Indo-French friendship’, and Narendra Modi, who is going to Paris to meet his ‘friend’ Emmanuel Macron on 2 May, will unquestionably issue a warm and positive statement, once the visit ends. But, will this give any tangible results that make a difference to India? I am not sure.
We will see the usual tokenism where France will support India’s membership of the UN Security Council, but this is an empty pledge because France knows very well that China, with veto power, will always oppose it. There are many areas where India will need more practical and forceful support — in Kashmir, for instance. France has never recognised India’s rightful sovereignty over Kashmir, whereas, on the one hand, it has accepted China’s claim over Taiwan. On the other, France itself has rightfully asserted for long its ownership of Corsica, an island that was once under Italian control, and has fought various independent movements, some of them violent.
I have written several times that one way that France would earn a deep and lasting relationship with India would be to dissociate itself from Pakistan, a non-democratic country that exports Islamic terrorism all over the world, and stop supplying Islamabad goods and weapons, that are then turned towards India, especially in Kashmir. But France, here, has always followed the US lead, which believes that Pakistan is an ally in the Far East because it embodies a “moderate Islam”.
There is another domain where France can put in more effort — the economy. France, whatever Macron and the Quai d’Orsay say, continues to invest 10-times more in China than it does in India. No doubt, it is easier to do business with China, being a dictatorship, where orders are followed under duress, and one can relocate millions of people to build a dam or a six-lane highway, in a matter of days. No doubt, it is difficult in India, where there is bureaucracy, some corruption, and obsolete visa, banking and FCRA laws that need to be reformed. But, in the long run, India being a democracy, home to a Western-loving people, whose upper and middle class speak English, isn’t investing in India a better bet? This is what I have been claiming for a long time, but without great results.
The third area where France needs to make an effort is defence: There is no need to speak about a strategic partnership, when the whole world knows that the ambition of China is not only to economically dominate the world, but also in a military and nuclear manner: China has got Hong Kong, they may eventually get Taipei, and they claim big chunks of Indian territory, like Arunachal Pradesh. India is the only nation which has the army, the manpower, and the physical proximity to effectively act as a buffer against Chinese hegemony. Macron, rather than launching the Aatmanirbhar Bharat project, which certainly has its advantages — like manufacturing air-independent propulsion submarines and high thrust aircraft engines — should furnish India with credit Rafale planes, as well as nuclear submarines, so that India is able to stop the Chinese thrust for domination in the maritime channels between the China Sea and the Indian Ocean.
India is a reasonable nuclear nation. France should, therefore, support India in becoming a member of the exclusive nuclear club, which again has the same five members as the UN Security Council — US, UK, France, Russia, and China — instead of clubbing India along with rogue nations like North Korea and Pakistan, two rogue countries, “as a nation in possession of nuclear weapons”.
Finally, apropos the Russia-Ukraine war, India is unnecessarily being dragged into it by the US and Great Britain. Ukraine is physically far away from India, with mostly white Caucasian people, and with which India has very little political and economic relationship. Whereas India has had a long friendship with Russia, received from it weapons that the US and Europe denied, and today, India depends on precious Russian oil that will fuel its energy needs.
Joe Biden, using Europe and NATO, is waging a proxy ego-war on Russia, when the real enemy is China. While the US arms manufacturers are selling to their government tens of thousands of machine guns, drones, planes, smart bombs, thereby boosting the American economy, Europe is going to suffer an economic recession, and a dramatically transformed European map, because of this unnecessary conflict. Why should India care? Macron should understand that and put pressure on the UK and the US to ease pressure on Delhi.
Sri Aurobindo said that France is the country of his heart, not the UK, where he spent 15 years of his life. It is true that there is a sentimental link between the two countries — the whole of India could even have become French, if King Louis XV had not recalled Dupleix, the then brilliant governor of French India, he who had taken Madras and whose army had come to the gates of Bombay. Even after India’s Independence of 1947, France dragged its feet to surrender Pondicherry and its four other insignificant comptoirs; Jawaharlal Nehru had to threaten to send the Indian Army for the French to finally leave in 1954.
When they meet early next month, Macron and Modi should aim for far-reaching and long-lasting agreements — economic, military, nuclear, geographical — even if these against the wishes of the US.
The author is a French journalist and author of ‘A History of India as It Happened’(Garudabooks.com). He is also building a museum of true Indian history in Pune. Views expressed are personal.