- Jan 11 2017
India-France diplomatic relationship has stood the test of time
H.E. Jean-Marc Ayrault, Honorable Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Development of the French Republic, Respected Mrs. Renuka Mishra, Dr. Shashi Tharoor, Member of Parliament and Dean of the Asian Forum on Global Governance, Ambassador of France to India H.E. Ziegler, our 41 Raisina Young Fellows, assembled here from across 26 countries for the leadership programme that is being inaugurated today as well, excellencies, distinguished guests, colleagues and patrons..
It is my privilege to welcome you to this 7th R.K. Mishra Memorial Lecture.
Instituted in 2010 as a tribute to our Founding Chairman, Shri R.K. Mishra, this lecture has become an annual flagship event at Observer Research Foundation that is eagerly anticipated by the strategic community in this country.
I am grateful to His Excellency Minister Ayrault for agreeing to deliver the lecture on the European Union, as an indispensable actor in an uncertain world, and to Mrs. Mishra for, as every year, blessing us with her presence both at this event and in our governing body.
Hon’ble Minister Sir, the term “an uncertain world” in the theme of the address today captures the current moment. The Oxford English Dictionary opted for the word “post-truth” to reflect a year dominated by highly charged political and social discourse fueled by the rise of social media as a news source and a growing distrust of facts offered up by the establishment.
The first part of this description could as well have been used for the India of 1991 another uncertain period that marked the watershed year for a country encumbered by and struggling under a closed and controlled economy, unable to move, unable to breathe and unable to be alive to opportunities that the global economy offered then.
From within the battle trenches of the crisis, taking a big picture view was particularly difficult. It was at this time that R.K. Mishra foresaw the challenge of reconciling the different and sometimes extreme political and ideological strains that were threatening to tear the political and ideological fabric of the nation.
And thus was born his idea of creating a jousting platform where the best minds across the political spectrum could meet debate, argue, contend and finally arrive at a political consensus to create a reform agenda for an India capable of moving into the 21st century.
Given those beginnings, Observer Research Foundation, today has come to be recognized not as an advocacy organisation, but as an open forum with the single mission of developing informed policy outputs that can facilitate the building of a strong and prosperous Indian polity at peace with itself and in sync with a rapidly globalising world.
Therefore, again at a time when the English of all people are mulling over this post-truth world, it is fitting that that we have with us the French Foreign Minister to be the first leader to deliver the 7th R.K. Mishra address from a country outside of Asia.
More importantly, Sir, your presence here is a testimony to our own institutional relationship with your country as much as it is a reflection of the strength of the India-France bilateral, a diplomatic relationship that to repeat a clichéd phrase has stood the test of time. Yet, that expression acquires a lot more meaning and substance while discussing India-France bilateral engagement.
For France, amongst the early colonial powers in India was actually something of a paradox. In spite of being a colonial power, it served as an inspiration for our anti-colonial movement. The first military partnership between the two countries could perhaps be traced to the late 18th century, when Tipu Sultan, the Tiger of Mysore, exchanged emissaries and letters with Napoleon Bonaparte. A century and a half later, the framers of India’s Constitution took a leaf from the French Revolution and its ideal of “Liberty, Equality, Fraternity.”
During the Cold War, our countries may have often found each other on opposite sides. Yet, France was our most important friend in Europe and our window to the West. It has been an economic and technology partner, especially in defence related sectors.. and it was always an understanding partner, a patient partner conscious of India’s challenges and sensitive to its ambitions.
The mature response of France to the Pokhran II nuclear tests of 1998 is still remembered in this country as an example of not just its surefooted diplomacy, but long-term thinking. For France, like India as an old civilization, has the ability to look beyond the immediate, the here and now.
And today as we assemble to listen to Excellency Ayrault on the European Union, as an indispensable actor in an uncertain world, France has emerged as one of the core anchors of the very idea of Europe — an idea that is being buffeted in the cross winds of several storms and cross currents, hitting the world.
And taking the fact of uncertainty as given, we have to identify the major themes and challenges of the next few decades and how India and the EU can work together. To my mind, there are three areas that lend themselves to us.
First, there is the Indian Ocean Region. Both dynamic and dangerous, if left adrift. Minister Ayrault recently spoke of how India and France “have major shared ambitions regarding maritime security and cooperation in the Indian Ocean.” “France,” he said, “is an Indian Ocean country because of Reunion Island. France has always considered India to be an essential partner for regional stability and security.”
The shouldering of a greater role in the Indian Ocean region is part of India’s trajectory of self realisation. It is not born of the needs for power projection, but rather arising during the course of its own economic and trade enhancement as the country progresses into becoming a USD 10 trillion economy by 2030.
There is a pragmatic logic in Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s stated aspiration of India playing a critical role, as a net security provider, to ensure stability and prosperity in the Indian Ocean region — vital preconditions for growth and development. And there are gamut of opportunities to partner with the EU and France in a number of areas.
Which brings me to the second area where the economy of the 21st century is being increasing defined by the digital sphere. A seamlessly connected world has become the sine-qua-non Internet for not just commerce and economic growth, but as a medium for empowerment and inclusion. Witness the Digital India thrust of the Indian government, whether as a quest for a less cash society or as a mode for reaching benefits and services to the bottom of the pyramid.
And the digital world too presents both an opportunity and a challenge. The problems of the real are bound to spill over into the digital which is threatened by illiberal regimes, extremist groups and non-state actors using its reach to recruit and radicalise people online. This is a wicked problem that even the most rigorous border controls have failed to prevent from proliferating across countries. Partnerships are the only solution and an India EU partnership becomes vital.
Europe and India, share a common periphery. West Asia, or as it is known in Europe, the Middle East, is our common neighbour and there is no doubt that developments that take place in this region impact both, significantly. India with a seven to eight million strong diaspora living in the region is a stakeholder in its stability. Any developments there implicate India and Europe directly. Therefore the need to work together, think together and strategise together.
As India assumes its role as a leading power, it is increasingly conscious of its global obligations. This was one reason why Prime Minister Modi staked so much in the Paris Agreement as the global community came together to tackle climate change. France was the site where the differences on the issue between the EU and India were resolved. France may well have a increasing significant role as a interlocutor on other subjects as well. Hon’ble minister Sir, France and the EU will need to be significant actors. They will also need to become indispensable partners in the days ahead. I would like to invite you to deliver the 7th R.K. Mishra Lecture on this very important theme.