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France church attack: PM underlines India’s support; between lines a key message

“I strongly condemn the recent terrorist attacks in France, including today’s heinous attack in Nice inside a church. Our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the people of France,” the PM tweeted.

Written by Shubhajit Roy | New Delhi |
Updated: October 30, 2020 9:35:41 am
france knife attack, france church attack, france terrorist attack, pm modi support to france, india support to france, indian expressFrench President Emmanuel Macron with Prime Minister Narendra Modi. (Reuters/File)

A day after becoming the first “non-Western country” — as a senior diplomat put it — to come out in support of French President Emmanuel Macron, New Delhi Thursday underlined its solidarity with a statement from Prime Minister Narendra Modi himself after the second set of attacks in Nice and Jeddah.

“I strongly condemn the recent terrorist attacks in France, including today’s heinous attack in Nice inside a church. Our deepest and heartfelt condolences to the families of the victims and the people of France. India stands with France in the fight against terrorism,” the PM tweeted.

Indian officials were assessing the threat perception with security officials from the French embassy Thursday evening along with the four French consulates in Mumbai, Bangalore, Kolkata and Pondicherry. Security for these missions and staff will be beefed up after this assessment, sources said, adding that the French foreign ministry has issued an advisory calling French citizens abroad to be vigilant amid an increased risk of terrorist attacks.

In the shadow of the attacks, Foreign Secretary Harsh Vardhan Shringla reached Paris Thursday on a scheduled visit and met Macron’s diplomatic advisor Emmanuel Bonne.

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Speaking at the Institut Français des Relations Internationales (IFRI) in Paris, Shringla said: “India and France face similar non-traditional security threats in the form of radicalism and terrorism…The fight today is not against specific communities or individuals but against a radical politico-religious ideology that attempts to negate the progress made by secular democracies, particularly when it involves the equality of all citizens, regardless of religion or ethnicity, and the rights of women…Such forces seek to destabilize pluralist societies,” he said.

“It was horrifying to hear about the two recent terrorist incidents in France, one of which, as is very often the case, had its origins in our western neighbourhood – Pakistan. The civilised world needs to act together and act with firmness to address this threat to our cherished democratic value systems,” he said.

So far, according to French officials, only EU countries and Canada had supported Macron, even as Turkey and Pakistan led the attack against Macron. Diplomats point out that even the US, the UK or Australia have not spoken out in Macron’s support so far. In this context, Paris saw New Delhi’s reaction as “very meaningful.”

India had Wednesday come out in support of Macron, whom Pakistan and Turkey have targeted for insulting the Islamic faith in the name of defending the French people’s right to freedom of expression.

On October 16, an 18-year-old Chechen refugee in France beheaded 47-year-old schoolteacher Samuel Paty days after Paty had shown caricatures of the Prophet Mohammed to his students in a classroom.

South Block sources told The Indian Express that there was a lot of deliberation within before the statement which had four key elements.

First, was the condemnation of the attack against Macron. “We strongly deplore the personal attacks in unacceptable language on President Emmanuel Macron in violation of the most basic standards of international discourse,” MEA had said.

Turkey’s President Recep Tayyip Erdogan had accused Macron of running an anti-Islamic agenda, and said the French President needed a “mental health check”. Pakistan’s Prime Minister Imran Khan said Macron was encouraging anti-Muslim sentiments and provoking Muslims.

Sources pointed out that both leaders had targeted the Indian leadership for the situation in Kashmir and the template was similar — Khan had attacked Prime Minister Narendra Modi and the BJP-RSS equating them with “Nazi” and “fascist tendencies.”

“There was a decision to pushback against that kind of name-calling,” the source said.

The second element was the condemnation of the terrorist attack which echoed what Paris has done after Pulwama, Uri, Pathankot attacks in recent years, and after the 26/11 attack in the past.

The third element was the India’s universal position on terrorism — “There is no justification for terrorism for any reason or under any circumstance.”

The fourth element, an official said, is what has not been said – the statement does not condone the cartoons and makes no reference to the French free-speech stand.

By confining its criticism to the tragedy of the teacher’s death, New Delhi, source said, is mindful of the sensitivities of not just the 170-million Indian Muslims and the wider Islamic world — where Delhi has vital stakes and close ties with Saudi Arabia or Iran or Indonesia.

New Delhi is also aware of the risks involved if the attacks snowball. At the same time, it decided to throw its weight behind strategic ties with France that have evolved over the years on counter-terrorism and defence to nuclear and space.

Modi shares a personal rapport with Macron, who had invited the PM to the G-7 summit in Biarritz last year. France has been extremely supportive of India at the UN Security Council on Kashmir and Pakistan-sponsored terrorism, among other issues. It helped India in the listing of Jaish-e-Mohammad chief Masood Azhar in May 2019 and pushing back on China-Pakistan’s bid to get Kashmir discussed at the UNSC.

Another factor on New Delhi’s table is Turkey’s increasing assertiveness in the region, its seeing itself as a protector of the faith and its close ties with Pakistan. Sources said India, which is watching the fissures within the Islamic world and the battle for supremacy between Erdogan and Saudi Arabia’s MBS and Iran’s Ayatollahs, was keen to send a strong signal to the Turkish leader.

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