Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | PM Modi in Paris | Why India-France ties are stronger tha...

Worldview with Suhasini Haidar | PM Modi in Paris | Why India-France ties are stronger than ever?

In this episode of Worldview with Suhasini Haidar, we discuss Modi’s visit to France, the strategic partnership and more!

Marching in step, Indian and French troops took part in France’s National Day or Bastille day parade, an event where PM Modi was invited as Chief Guest by French President Emmanuel Macron. Along with the tri-services marching down the Champs Elysee, Indian airforce Rafale fighter jets were in the flypast, and the INS Chennai docked at France’s Brest port. The occasion also marked 25 years of the France-India Strategic Partnership. 

After meetings the same evening, here’s what the two sides agreed on- and you can put those in 3 major Silos.

1.     Renewing the 25 year Strategic Partnership 

1.     A comprehensive Roadmap on Indo-French Strategic Partnership Horizon 2047- not 2048, because presumably this would coincide with 100 years of India’s independence 

2.     A roadmap on India France cooperation in the Indo Pacifici- including cooperating in exchanges, port calls and joint patrols- France has a number of overseas territories both in the Indian ocean like Reunion and Pacific Ocean like New Caledonia and French Polynesia. They also agreed to set up an Indo Pacific trilateral fund to help countries in the region with startups and other projects

3.     Space cooperation to be strengthened in 3 areas primarily- remember France’s first support to ISRO dates back to 1951 

* India-France joint Earth Observation mission TRISHNA Implementing Arrangement- and the Space climate observatory 

* Manned flights in connection with India’s Gaganyaan programme. 

* NSIL and Arianespace intend to collaborate in commercial launch services. The event coincided with a proud moment for India as ISRO conducted another attempt to send Chandrayaan-3 to the Moon surface on July 14

4.     Nuclear cooperation- while no progress was announced on the pending deal for 6 EPR for Jaitapur, PM Modi announced that India would now look at France EDF’s latest Small Modular Reactors (SMR) and Advanced Modular Reactors (AMR). 

2.     Defence and Strategic agreements – big ticket items worth more than 10 Billion Euros- and to move from tech transfer and co production to co-development 

1. India has cleared the purchase of 26 Rafale Marine jets for the Navy- to add to 36 Rafale for the IAF announced in 2015 

2. India also cleared the purchase of 3 more Scorpene submarines – in continuation of the 2008 programme

3. They also agreed to support industrial cooperation to co develop helicopter engines for the Indian Multi Role Helicopter programme in a deal between HAL and Safran 

4. Working on Roadmap on Defence Industrial Cooperation- DRDO will set up a Paris office- for joint research, testing, certification and production agreements 

5. An agreement between IOC and Toral for long term LNG purchases 

3.     People to people ties 

1.Trade: this is the laggard in the India-France relationship, and despite all the other areas of agreement, Trade remains pegged between 10-15 Billion Dollars. France is not amongst India’s 20 largest trading partners like the US, China and Germany etc and France is the 11th largest source of FDI in India. The two sides did promise to address this India will open a new consulate in Marseille in the South of France 

2. France is offering scholarships and resources including for non-French speaking Indian students to triple the numbers from 10,000 to 30,000 in 2030 

3. India is seeking French Universities to set up in India 

4. France also announced it would issue 5yr visas for Indians who earned a post graduate degree from France 

5. Holding joint sporting events in India ahead of the Paris Olympics 2024 

The fact is the optics and outcomes may have rivalled the US trip by PM Modi last month, or even outdone them. Of course, the France-US rivalry has always played out in the background of India’s relationship with France. 

What binds the two countries together: 

1.     A few years after Independence from the UK, France gave up its colonies, transferring Pondicherry, Karaikal, Mahe and Yanam to India in 1954. In later years, PM Nehru made several visits to France- most notably trying to convince France to give up its nuclear weapons programme. But later the roles reversed. 

2.     The two sides have a very strict policy of non-interference in each other’s internal affairs. When the US stopped uranium supplies to India after the 1974 nuclear tests, France stepped in. French president Jacque Chirac even came to India as the guest on republic day during the Emergency in India imposed by PM Indira Gandhi.  

3.     More awkwardness followed in 1998- France and India announced their strategic partnership when Chirac returned as Republic Day Chief Guest in 1998 with PM IK Gujaral. 5 months later, India conducted its nuclear tests under PM Vajpayee. France remained steadfast, didn’t join the US and other countries in sanctions against India, and didn’t scrap the agreement. 

4.     The strategic partnership grew from strength to strength. When India won a nuclear waiver at the NSG, its first civil nuclear cooperation deal was with France. French President Sarkozy was Rday Chief Guest to India in 2008  

5.     A year later, PM Manmohan Singh became the first Indian PM to be invited to Bastille Day parade in Paris- same year he went on a State Visit to the US 

6.     PM Modi has dealt with both French Presidents Hollande who was the chief guest at the Rday in with whom he had announced the Rafale deal for 36 fighter jets during a visit to Paris

7.     And French President Macron who visited India in 2018 for a landmark number of agreements on Climate change, Green transitions, and the Indo-Pacific. The two countries also launched the International Solar Alliance together, with more than 120 signatory countries so far.  

Through it all France has not commented on events in India 

*France did not sanction India over its nuclear tests 

*France did not criticise the Emergency 

*More recently France has not raised human rights concerns as other Western countries have. PM Modi landed in Paris, when not too far away, the European Parliament in Strasbourg, France passed a resolution criticising India for the violence in Manipur, Hindu majoritarianism, internet bans, actions against human rights defenders etc. 

The MEA accused the European Parliament of a colonial mindset, asserting this was an internal matter.

After the Russian war in Ukraine, France  has urged India to change its stand, but privately, and didn’t express its upset publicly when India refused to vote on French-Mexican resolution at the UNSC in 2022 that focused on humanitarian access. 

Unlike the US, France is not targeting China in its ties with India, nor has it commented on the LAC tensions overtly. India for its part did not criticise Macron for his visit to Beijing this year, where he appeared to diverge from the western position, and said Europe cannot be a vassal state to the US on its China policy. While meeting the China challenge strategically, both countries have strong business ties with China, and accept the complexity of the relationship .

Nor has India mentioned the riots in France, most recently over the killing of a 17 year old by police who belonged to the Algerian immigrant community.

WV Take

The fact is it isn’t just a belief in Liberty Equality Fraternity of all humans that is a common code in India, and many countries, France and India have built a strong tradition of Strategic Autonomy, something former French President Charle De Gaulle encoded, and PM Nehru enshrined using the term non-alignment, in their respective countries . It is this belief that has allowed the France India relationship to avoid some of the pitfalls of other ties- and develop a consistency that has lasted decades. 

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