Photo (From Left to Right): Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. and Jainendra Karn - Photo: 2022

The Challenges for Indo-French Relationship in a Multi-Polar and Fragmented World

Viewpoint by Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. and Jainendra Karn

Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. is an ex-diplomat & ALCAP’s Special Adviser for Asia & Africa and Jainendra Karn is a senior leader of the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP). Any views or opinions expressed are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent those of IDN-InDepth News.

NEW DELHI (IDN) — The current global food crisis brought back memories of the days gone by as a diplomat over a decade or so back which underlined the notion that the quest and security of basic needs is an essential part of international relations and geopolitics.

Being the last speaker at the conference titled “Global Food Security: Challenges for International Stability?” at the headquarters of the Bank of France, the central bank in France located in Paris, gave an opportunity not only to discuss the issue of food security but also the state of Indo-French affairs, history, and the potential and possibility to develop them further.

Presently the Indo-French relationship that is rooted in mutual trust, commitment to international law, and vision for a multi-polar world shaped by reformed and effective multilateralism has grown by leaps and bounds under the leadership of Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Emmanuel Macron.

India and France share a rich and long historical connect that does give many academics including historians an opportunity to interpret it in novel ways and make a psychological McBurger of it.

In fact it will not be an exaggeration to say that the basic values of the French Republic—liberté, égalité, fraternité—are rooted in the Indic Dharmic values.

These values also manifest in the Preamble of the Indian Constitution about which Dr B. R. Ambedkar had said—It was, indeed, a way of life, which recognizes liberty, equality, and fraternity as the principles of life and which cannot be divorced from each other.

He claimed to derive these values from Dharma which has heavily influenced and shaped the development of European thought and philosophy continually since time immemorial.

Besides impacting the Greek civilization, Dharma also heavily shaped early Christianity in the Middle East. But as happens with any new creed that has a missionary zeal inherently linked to it, Christianity’s attempts to appropriate local traditions such as in central Asia and China resulted in the digestion of local cultures and traditions through a predatory process.

Nevertheless, despite following different evolutionary trajectories India and France today stand at a juncture where they share common values and interests.

The joint statement issued during Prime Minister Modi’s visit to France captured the essence of the France-India partnership where both countries reiterated their commitment to the core principles of the liberal international order including democracy, fundamental freedoms, rule of law and human rights.

It is to be noted that this stand is a bit different from India’s relationship with other leading western countries. For example, the US talks about sharing strategic values with India, world’s largest democracy, but of strategic interests with a country like Pakistan whose relationship with international terrorism is always in the limelight even in France.

The same applies to other leading nations in the western block such as Germany that are becoming hotspots for hosting elements detrimental to India’s security interests.

There is a deliberate tendency in Germany to create a mischievous ambiguity and propaganda about India such as in the case of global wheat shortage or interfering in internal legal issues and due processes that is taking a significant effort by Indian authorities to counter.

Just like France, India faces challenges both internally and externally. So the lackadaisical attitude of countries like Germany that have a contrived history and deep legacy of extremism does not help towards the security concerns of countries like India and its citizens just like Canada has in the case of Kanishka bombing.

The November 2015 Paris attacks or the Charlie Hebdo shooting incident in France bore eerie resemblance to the Islamic terrorist incidents in India such as the 2008 Mumbai Terrorist attacks in India.

India’s ex-Ambassador Bhaswati Mukherjee mentions that the EU has belatedly started acknowledging what India through its counter-terrorism dialogues with the West had been warning for years, that Islamic fundamentalist networks and sleeper cells are active across the EU.

Yet such terrorist incidents continue unabated in the EU or elsewhere in the world and India being a victim that has been suffering for a very long time.

In the recent past, the terrorist incident in Assam that made over 200,000 people homeless, growing fundamentalism at the grassroots or the cruel beheading of a hapless Hindu man in Rajasthan where the perpetrators issued life threats to Prime Minister Modi are an example  of how severe is the problem of fundamentalism is in India.

But such issues are seldom covered, ignored, never highlighted enough or given a deliberate spin by the international political fraternity, media or academia globally. The recent experience of the Asian News International (ANI) attests to the very tendency.

A comparison of the news projected by the prominent US media about the assassination of ex-Prime Minister of Japan Shinzo Abe with the fluff Washington Post wrote about the ISIS terrorist al-Baghdadi is also a commentary enough on the way media projects its biases.

At a time when people want unbiased news coverage from media outlets, a tilt of media towards the left coupled with the domination of the left in academia and resurgence in the political arena could be a possible reason for the said tendency.

In the context of Indo-French relations, two prominent examples can be French politician Clémentine Autain and academic Christophe Jaffrelot whose works lack objectivity and are particularly noted for their anti-BJP and RSS bias.

That Prime Minister Modi faced serious life threats from terrorists such as in the 2013 Patna bombings even before he assumed the office of India’s Prime Minister or the steps undertaken by the Modi Government for the welfare of minorities without appeasement and discrimination never find mention in the international discourse controlled by the global media. His religious identity which is fanned in the media that most foreigners are exposed to is usually a curated work of the left liberals.

This trait is very prominent in the context of India. Foreign media’s bias against India is common knowledge and academic studies have shown inherent biases of the Western media when it comes to reporting about India by their use of divisive and negative words.

It affects the objectivity of reporting and generation of knowledge and also engenders biases that have serious consequences at local, regional and global levels.

Such projections that are tantamount to information warfare don’t help in the sphere of international relations and create challenges for countries which exist in a complex regional environment yet somehow managed to have independent foreign policies in a chaotic world.

France just like India considers independence a traditional virtue of its foreign policy and practice.

India which is credited as the founder of the Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) is adapting its stance from non-alignment to multi-alignment to adjust to a world which the Indian Foreign Minister S. Jaishanker, speaking at the Institut Français Des Relations Internationales (IFRI) described as undergoing “profound geopolitical, geo-economic and technological changes.”

France that is not a part of the Anglo-Saxon world is one of the founding members of NATO that withdrew from the alliance only to rejoin later always had a somewhat uneasy relationship with NATO as the organization is perceived as skewed towards US interests.

France also has Europe at the core of its foreign policy. It is a member of the EU but the grouping is like a biryani of countries that have significant economic, political, and cultural disparities that raise serious doubts about its feasibility and future.

On one hand, the EU has a country like Belgium that Nigel Farage described as a non-country while on the other it has Germany that opened the door to China and threw away the key while its delegation at the UN only smirked at President Trump’s warnings with a conceited disdain.

As if the latter’s Volkswagen emissions scandal was not enough, Germany’s recent headstand on reverting to coal power inspired many others in the EU only to trash their pledges to counter climate change and avoid a Boris Johnson kind of green fiasco.

So it becomes an arduous task for a country like France to work in the challenging environment of a set-up like the EU that President Trump had called “worse than China” regarding its trade and tariffs.

Only time will tell how the attempts of France and India to develop synergies and extend ties within a stipulated timeframe which are beneficial for the region will fare as close ties between Germany and China will be an important factor in the deal.

France and India have been trusted partners and share a unique time-tested bond. In 2020, France became the first country to offer India ‘steadfast & friendly’ military support of its armed forces amid growing tensions on the China border while its Defence Minister Florence Parly wrote to her Indian counterpart condoling the deaths of the 20 soldiers killed in Galwan.

The delivery of Rafale jets to India ahead of schedule by France or the establishment of the largest MRO facility by Safran for commercial aircraft engines in Hyderabad by 2025 are an example of growing ties between France and India.

Another unique thing about the Indo-French relationship is that both countries gain from each other’s competitive advantage. France became the first country in the EU to benefit from India’s Unified Payments Interface (UPI) digital payments system.

India conducts over 5.5 billion UPI transactions a month which are safe, highly efficient and bring down the cost of transaction in a significant manner.

Our interaction with leading French business leaders and academics informed us that the mood in France is quite upbeat, confident and optimistic about its relationship with India and they look forward to extend the cooperation in other fields as well.

But one can always guess about how the Indo-French partnership responds to the evolving challenges at the global level.

The unanimous and sudden withdrawal of the US from Afghanistan opened a Pandora’s Box for the world with serious security concerns to the possibility of the creation of an Arab NATO-like structure in the Mid East which now makes people speculate about the scriptwriter for President Biden.

Many argue that the US literally hustled the Europeans into the Ukraine crisis that has brought EU economies down on their knees. This could not have come at a worse time for the world when the US, the world’s leading economy, is itself gaping at an economic and socio-cultural black hole.

While India repeatedly favoured dialogue and diplomacy to solve the Ukraine crisis, France also underlined the importance of diplomacy to defuse the ongoing crisis where President Macron even worked towards paving way for a potential Biden-Putin summit to deescalate the situation between Russia and Ukraine.

It can be said that the foreign-policy fundamentals of both India and France are similar which include a firm, yet guarded alliance with the US, with a genuine aspiration to protect their strategic autonomies and promote their national interests amid the world’s turbulent geopolitics.

In a world that is steadily getting fragmented and there remain uncertainties about the features of the emerging multi-polar world order, the main policy challenge for both India and France will be to secure national interests by engaging with multiple partners at the same time. [IDN-InDepthNews – 13 July 2022]

Photo (From Left to Right): Manish Uprety F.R.A.S. and Jainendra Karn

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