French President Emmanuel Macron may be facing political trouble at home but his visit to India, full of pomp and ceremony, underscored the special place of France in Indian strategic calculus. The roadshow in Jaipur with a 'chai pe charcha' capped by the pageantry of Republic Day celebrations where he was the chief guest was a reminder of how the strategic elite as well as ordinary Indians view France as a trusted partner that has always stood by India. This is no mean feat in a world which continues to evolve and where there are no permanent friends.
Macron has become the first French president to be accorded this honour of being welcomed as the chief guest at Republic Day celebrations twice. Last year, it was PM Modi who was the chief guest at the Bastille Day military parade hosted by Macron when an Indian tri-services contingent had also participated in the march. And at this year's Republic Day celebrations, a 95-member marching contingent and a 33-member band contingent from France joined in.
India and France have been close partners but under PM Modi and Macron there has been a sustained attempt to work towards making this critical partnership respond to the 21st century realities and challenges.
Even as the French President and Indian Prime Minister Narendra PM Modi deliberated on global problems like the war in Gaza and the turmoil in the Red Sea, they also found ways to further bolster their bilateral engagement. This involved adopting a roadmap on defence industrial cooperation to enhance opportunities in co-design, co-development and co-production in key sectors such as air and space, maritime tech,cyber, robotics and artificial intelligence. And there is also an attempt to bring the two societies together closer with the announcement of a 'Young Professionals' scheme for people between 18 to 35 years of age.
India and France have been close partners but under PM Modi and Macron there has been a sustained attempt to work towards making this critical partnership respond to the 21st century realities and challenges. In this 25th anniversary year of the Indo-French Strategic Partnership, there is no attempt to simply sit on past laurels. The strategic realities are evolving rapidly and any partnership, to remain relevant, should also evolve. Such an evolution is relatively easy when there is a historic comfort level in engagement.
In the case of India and France, this high degree of comfort level could be gauged from the fact that New Delhi could invite Macron after, reportedly, the US President couldn't make it to the Republic Day celebration and Macron accepted it without any hesitation. This suggests a level of understanding quite rare in global engagements with the result that New Delhi and Paris have been able to reconfigure their ties nimbly in the light of changing global realities.
If France was one of the first western nations to bet on India during the Cold War when most of the West saw India as the "other," it also understood much better than most the need for New Delhi to acquire its independent nuclear deterrent. From standing by India after the 1998 nuclear tests to supporting India's membership at the Nuclear Suppliers' Group and permanent membership at the UN Security Council, France has been a critical anchor for India as India sought to create newer platforms like the International Solar Alliance. On issues such as terrorism and Kashmir, France's support has been key for India in standing its ground against a large part of the globe.
New Delhi has also welcomed a more robust French engagement in the Indian Ocean as India seeks greater maritime stability in the Indo-Pacific in partnership with like-minded nations.
And as India sought diversification in its defence inventory, France emerged as a priority nation. New Delhi has also welcomed a more robust French engagement in the Indian Ocean as India seeks greater maritime stability in the Indo-Pacific in partnership with like-minded nations. Just a few days back, The Indian Air Force conducted Exercise Desert Knight in collaboration with the French Air and Space Force (FASF) and the United Arab Emirates (UAE) Air Force over the Arabian Sea to enhance synergy and interoperability between the three air forces.
Both nations value strategic autonomy and so they understand each others' priorities better. With Europe facing a prolonged crisis in Ukraine and with the Indo-Pacific balance of power shifting rapidly, Paris and New Delhi will have to work even closer now to lead and provide solutions to emerging challenges. The shadow of Donald Trump also looms large over the American political landscape, so it is also time to start preparing for even greater disruption. PM Modi and Macron have succeeded in developing a close personal bond, which has been instrumental in further consolidating the bonds between two nations. But as the world faces disruption from multiple sources and the US domestic polity undergoes another significant churn, New Delhi and Paris will have to start looking beyond the bilateral to shaping an international order that is demanding serious attention.
This commentary originally appeared in NDTV.
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Professor Harsh V. Pant is Vice President – Studies and Foreign Policy at Observer Research Foundation, New Delhi. He is a Professor of International Relations ...Read More +