Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has arrived in Paris for the Bastille Day celebrations. His tightly packed two Parisian days will start with a meeting with Élisabeth Borne, the French Prime Minister and the President of the Senate Gérard Larcher. He will then address the Indian diaspora in France. In the evening, President Emmanuel Macron will receive him at the Élysée Palace for a private dinner and tête à tête.
Friday, the day of the fête nationale, will see him as the guest of honour alongside Macron at the traditional military parade in the Champs Elysées. In the evening he will attend an official dinner at the prestigious Louvre Museum with more than 200 guests. His visit will come to a grandiose end as he witnesses the magnificent display of fireworks over the Eiffel Tower.
But why is France rolling out the red carpet for India this year?
Paris and New Delhi have been strategic partners for 25 years, especially in the area of defence. The visit could lead to the Indian acquisition of 26 new Rafale jets and 3 Scorpene submarines. The two countries also have rather converging views on international relations. Paris wants to be a balancing power, wants to increase dialogue and wishes to be a bridge between the Western bloc and the rest of the world.
‘‘We have the same desire for strategic autonomy. Our two countries are deeply committed to international law and we want the world to be multipolar,’’ Narendra Modi said in an interview with Les Echos newspaper, saying India saw France as one of (its) main global partners.
France has been one of India’s closest European allies. For instance, it was the only country not to impose sanctions on India after its nuclear tests in 1998.
According to announcements by Indian Foreign Secretary Vinay Kwarta, ‘‘Security cooperation, space, civil nuclear, technology, anti-terrorism, cybersecurity, climate change, renewable energies... will be on the menu of the discussions between the two leaders.’’
India is also the world’s largest demographic power, an economic giant, a major emitter of greenhouse gases and a formidable nuclear power. She is an unavoidable heavyweight, increasingly courted.
A few weeks ago, Narendra Modi had the rare honour of a state visit to Washington. ‘‘India has seen its influence increase significantly in recent years,’’ notes researcher Farwa Aamer, of the Asia Society Policy Institute, who points out that India currently holds the presidency of the G20. If Paris has succeeded in forging a privileged link with New Delhi it is also because it rarely comments or interferes with India’s internal affairs. France is in India’s good books.
For Emmanuel Macron, India is also an essential interlocutor in the Indo-Pacific zone, which covers the Indian and Pacific oceans, the scene of growing international tensions between Beijing and Washington and where France has overseas interests and territories. It is also one of the countries on the front line in the face of the menacing rise of China.
However for European NGOs, this pomp and gaiety surrounding the Indian PM in Paris raises questions in terms of human rights. The Indian government has been rubbing several of them in the wrong way. ‘‘Narendra Modi (...), with his Hindu nationalist government, has continued to undermine human rights and democracy,” denounced the signatories of a column published last week by the communist newspaper Humanité. Human Rights Watch has lamented, “It is deeply worrying that France is celebrating the values of freedom and equality with a leader much criticized for undermining democracy in India.”