No doubt, it was better for Indian interests that Emmanuel Macron be re-elected as President of France, rather than Mrs 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 unemployment goes down. Mrs Le Pen is thus rather xenophobic, even if 45% of France voted for her, not a mean number — and India might not have been one of her priorities.
We keep hearing about ‘Indo–French strategic partnership’ or ‘Indo–French friendship’, and Shri 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 it give any tangible results that make a DIFFERENCE to India? I am not sure. We will see the usual token French support for Indian membership of the Security Council in the United Nations; but this is an empty pledge, because France knows very well that China—who has veto power, being one of the Five Members—will always oppose it.
There are many other 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, and on the other hand, France itself has strongly asserted for long ownership on Corsica, an island, which was once under Italian control, and has fought various independentist movements, some of them being 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 — an undemocratic country which has exported Islamic terrorism all over the world — and stop supplying them goods and weapons, that are then turned towards India, especially in Kashmir. But France, here, has always followed the U.S. and U.K. lead, which believes that Pakistan is an ally in the Far East because it embodies a “moderate Islam”.
There is another domain where France could make a lot more effort is economy. France, whatever Macron and the Quai d’Orsay say, continues to invest ten 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 more difficult in India, where there is bureaucracy, some corruption, and obsolete visas, 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 defense. There is no need to speak about strategic partnership, when the whole world knows that the ambition of China is not only to economically dominate the world (via the new Silk Road that is being traced in the Himalayas, going through Pakistan), but also in a military and nuclear manner: China got Hong Kong, they will 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 Atma nirbhar Bharat project, which certainly has its advantages—like manufacturing air independent propulsion submarines and high thrust aircraft engines—should furnish India ON 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: it did detonate two underground nuclear devices, but is only using its nuclear missiles as a deterrent against both Pakistan and China. Thus, France should support India 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 North Korea and Pakistan, two rogue countries, ‘as a nation in possession of nuclear weapons’.
Finally, with regards to the Russia–Ukraine war, India is unnecessarily dragged into it by the US and Great Britain. Ukraine is physically far from India, with a mostly white Caucasian people, and with which India has a very small political and economic relationship. Whereas, India has had a long friendship with Russia, received from them weapons that the US and Europe denied, and today, India depends on precious Russian oil that will fuel its energy needs. Mr Biden is waging a proxy ego-war on Russia, when the real enemy is China, using Europe and NATO. While the US arms manufacturers are selling to their government tens of thousands of machine guns, drones, planes, smart bombs to give to Ukraine, 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? Mr Macron should understand that and put pressure on UK and USA to ease on Delhi.
Sri Aurobindo said that France is the country of his heart—not the UK, where he spent fifteen years of his life. It is true that there is a sentimental link between these 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 the Indian Independence of 1947, France dragged its feet to surrender Pondicherry and its four other insignificant comptoirs, and Nehru had to threaten to send the Indian Army for the French to finally leave in 1954.
Mr Macron and Mr Modi must therefore strike, while the iron is hot, and aim for more far-reaching and long-lasting agreements, economic, military, nuclear, geographical , even if it is against the wishes of the US.