We’ll always have Paris, Humphrey Bogart famously told Ingrid Bergman in the lovely 1942 Hollywood film ‘Casablanca,’ and going by the hug and the walks in the Elysee Palace grounds by prime minister Narendra Modi and French president Emmanuel Macron, you could say the sentiment still applies.
Modi was airborne, on his way home from his four-nation tour, when India beat Pakistan at the Champions Trophy in Edgbaston, England, last night. But you can bet your last rupee the PM would have heard. Cricket has become another weapon in Modi’s arsenal in the boycott of Pakistan next door.
Interestingly, @narendramodi invoked the London terror attacks in Paris to reiterate India’s abiding concerns about cross-border terrorism; @emmanuelmacron tweeted that France stood by the United Kingdom.
That’s what neighbours who have fought wars for a hundred years, do to each other. They have learnt the terrible cost of war. They understand what it means to suffer, both individually and together.
The difference in India’s neighbourhood of course is that Pakistan is, to a significant extent a source of terror. But if Modi has to bite that particular bullet, he has to deal with Pakistan differently. He has to learn to separate the Pakistan army as well as the government from the people of Pakistan. Modi seems to have taken some initiative by sending his businessman friend Sajjan Jindal to Pakistan to meet Nawaz Sharif. Nobody really knows though the outcome of that meeting.
Meanwhile, Modi’s social media team put out a short video of the PM in St. Petersburg giving NBC star anchor @megynkelly a short lecture of how “terrorism affects the entire world. All humanitarian forces have to come together to uproot the menace of terrorism from our planet.”
To be sure, he was getting his own back at the American journalist who had dared to ask him if he was on Twitter. So the morning after that question, while moderating a session at the @SPIEF, Megyn asked Modi about China’s grand New Silk Road ambitions and what India thought about the initiative. Modi totally ignored the question. Instead, he brought out the world’s double standards on their reaction to terrorism.
“In the 1980 and 90s, people used to say that terrorism is actually a law and order problem. The world never understood (duniya ke dimaag main baithta hi nahin tha…) what terrorism was. But India suffered for 40 years. Only when 9/11 happened did people begin to understand this terrible phenomenon. How it has no country, no religion, no borders…”
But unlike @readDonaldTrump’s crude and vulgar comments about the London attacks, Modi remained focused on the message he wanted to deliver – India understood the pain from the London terror because the exact same thing repeatedly happened back home.
In Paris, as the attacks unfolded, Modi tweeted his condemnation. At the Elysee, standing next to a man only a few years less than half his age, the PM displayed a crafty understanding of the need to grandstand on the world stage – no matter what India did at home with its own abysmal record in trying to control greenhouse gas emissions, it would now underline the importance of the climate change agreement because it needed to be in step with the rest of the thinking world.
Look at it this way. With the US president announcing his country will walk out of the pro-climate change Paris Accords, the stakes have suddenly become terribly low for Modi. “A cleaner environment is an article of faith for us,” the PM said, adding, “We need to bequeath to our younger generations a cleaner planet.”
This kind of lip service has been second nature to all global politicians. In 2015, when former US president Barack Obama pushed India and another 194 countries to sign on to the climate change accords, Modi knew what he was getting India into.
Several advisors in Delhi had both warned and pleaded with Modi at the time. “Don’t sign it. Don’t commit India to not raising temperatures more than 2 degrees C as this will limit the burning of both fossil fuels (like coal) as well as cleaner energy, which would in turn stymie industrialisation and therefore, growth.”
But the PM simply wouldn’t listen. “They”, the leaders of the world, have asked me to sign, he would tell his naysayers, so how could he refuse?
The 39-year-old Macron smiled at Modi renewing India’s commitment. Certainly, the terribly young Frenchman has no problem with treating the Indian PM as a respected elder. After all, the French are getting extraordinarly overpaid for the 36 Rafale fighter jets that Modi ordered from Paris when he first visited two years ago. They are expected to cost $8.8 billion. There is absolutely no transfer of technology component to this deal.
Instead of Make in India, Modi will be contributing to Make in France.
In fact, the PM will soon be travelling to Kochi to flag off the underground metro that has been built in the Kerala city, much of it with French help which includes coaches and signalling equipment. It’s another matter that the Kochi metro was conceived by former prime minister Manmohan Singh and his principal secretary, TKA Nair, a Malayali.
Soon the PM will be home. It will soon be another day. The celebrations around India’s defeat of Pakistan at cricket should continue.