India and France will be friends. Against China as well
The "amrit kaal" is coming, and after it the "vikshit bharat"! This is the most popular phrase in India's power circles in the last two years. A "golden age" that will lead to a "developed India". Now among the Global South, the country is becoming the most desired partner.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi has just been in Washington where he addressed a joint session of both Houses of Congress for the second time. Before him, only Churchill and Mandela were given this honor. And on Bastille Day, he arrived in Paris. The red carpets were colorful.
Modi, along with Macron, hosted a celebratory parade where 240 Indian military personnel marched and three fighter jets of the country's Air Force (French-made) sliced the sky over the Champs-Elysees. Then the Legion of Honor, followed by a gala dinner at the Louvre with two hundred invited industrialists, intellectuals, famous actors and sportsmen. It will be interesting to compare it with what will happen during the King of England's imminent visit.
For this pomposity, Macron has had to endure criticism from all sides. In France, which has made democracy almost a religion, Modi is seen as an authoritarian leader. Though the 1947 constitution stipulates that India is a federal parliamentary republic, multi-religious and secular. But Modi's right-wing party, the BJP, promotes the ideas of Hinduism, which is professed by 80 percent of the population. The other 20 percent don't. There are 195 million Muslims alone.
They also accuse him of persecuting national minorities, of ruling justice by hand, and of stifling freedom of speech... That is to say, it is unworthy of the principles of the Republic to invite such a leader to the main rostrum of the country and to show him signs of the highest support. Petitions by opposition parties and NGOs calling for demonstrations against the visit appeared in the newspapers.
"Paris continues to pretend that India is the most democratic country in the world, even if they don't believe it themselves here," commented Christophe Jaffrelot, a political scientist at the University of Political Science. – "Selling ultra-modern weapons to any state means establishing the closest ties, for decades. Such contracts actually deserve a public debate to begin with."
And the contracts are juicy indeed. India will order 26 Rafale fighters to be based on its newest aircraft carrier INS Vikrant. Meanwhile, the Indians have already purchased 36 Rafale in 2016. But it's not just buying an aircraft. It's spare parts, maintenance, training of pilots and technicians. Indeed, for decades. India is now the world's top arms importer, and France is the second largest seller after Russia.
Next. At the just-concluded Paris Air Show, India decided to buy – attention! – 500 A-320 Airbuses. This is the largest deal in the history of world civil aviation.
They discussed the purchase of three Scorpene-type submarines, six of which are already under construction in India in partnership with France's Naval Group. Macron and Modi agreed to jointly produce an engine for future Indian fighter jets. And on top of all that, they signed an agreement to build a nuclear power plant in the city of Jaitapur.
"India is one of the pillars of our Indo-Pacific policy. We associate it with our project of building an open and free space in the region that respects international law," the Elysee Palace communiqué said.
It is clear that they are going to be friends against China. Both the Americans and the French are betting on India, which, in their opinion, can become a counterweight to the Celestial Empire.
This is not a fact," says Christophe Jaffrelot. – "India is losing to China on many positions, and so much so that it is simply not ready to confront it. Entire sectors of the economy cannot operate without their supplies. The trade surplus in favor of the Celestial Empire is enormous."
In 2021, it was 70 billion dollars. In 2022, it is already 100, and it is expected to grow by another 21 percent this year. In addition, India is surrounded by countries that are heavily dependent on China – Burma, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal and Iran.
Jean-Luc Racine, a researcher at the University of Political Science, says: "Even if India's GDP growth is approaching 10 percent a year, it will not catch up with China anytime soon. Certainly not tomorrow."
"The phenomenon of India is talked about as a fait accompli," continues Jaffrelot. – "But the country has an annual population growth rate of 12 million people. A million a month. And there is no adequate educational system, and the labor market can absorb only half of the workers. This generates systemic youth unemployment."
The West is not even too embarrassed by Modi's neutral position in assessing the special military operation; diplomats have given it the name "pro-Russian neutrality." The prime minister not only wants to revise the UN institutions, but also to take a seat in the Security Council, and this idea is supported by France.
"We buy crude oil from Russia, refine it and resell it to Europe, among others," says Javed Ashraf, India's ambassador to France. – "We are the ones who have stabilized the oil market. "If we were buying Russian oil at world prices, we would have galloping inflation in our country," continues Amitabh Kant, India's G20 Sherpa.
Modi himself is not exactly eager to turn to the West either. For example, although he was one of the first to express condolences after the death of Queen Elizabeth, he is not going to forget the colonial past, and part of society is still waiting for the British to apologize at least for the Amritsar massacre of 1919.
In last year's Independence Day speech, Modi bluntly said he was going to "decolonize" the country. Kingsway Avenue, paved by the British, has become the "Road of Duty". The statue of George V has already been replaced by a monument to Subhas Chandra Bose, a controversial independence fighter.
There is an idea among those disgruntled by the prime minister's royal visit to Paris that it would be good to wait for the Indian elections in 2024 first. The results will show to what extent the partner is capable of adapting to democratic values.
But businesses can't wait that long.