Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s fourth visit to France in a little over five years marks the consolidation of a relationship that had offered much promise for so long. Although the two sides had declared a strategic partnership way back in 1998, Delhi and Paris had struggled to take full advantage of its many possibilities. That has begun to change under Modi and President Emmanuel Macron. If Macron’s visit to Delhi last year raised the level of ambition, Modi’s visit last week saw the intensification of efforts to advance civil nuclear cooperation, enhance engagement in civilian and security dimensions of outer space, and outline a new road map for bilateral cooperation in cybersecurity and digital technology. Framing this bilateral cooperation in strategic areas is the deepening political cooperation on regional issues.
French empathy for India’s concerns on cross-border terrorism and the external destabilisation of Kashmir has seen consequential results. Paris has offered unstinted support for India on targeting the sources of violent extremism in Pakistan and helped limit the international backlash against Delhi’s effort to rewrite the rules of engagement in J&K. This stands in contrast to Russia’s growing ambivalence on the issues between India and Pakistan. Russia’s deepening ties with China, amid sharpening tensions between Delhi and Beijing, are casting a shadow over its South Asia policies. The US, which had made a definitive tilt towards India on its disputes with Pakistan during the last two decades, appears shaky under President Donald Trump. Seeking to extricate itself from Afghanistan, it appears eager to please Pakistan and Trump is serving up reheated illusions about mediating the Kashmir question between Delhi and Islamabad.
The relations between Delhi and Paris are not a one-way street. France has reasons to see Delhi as a strong partner on bilateral, regional and global issues. A rapidly expanding economy makes India a valuable commercial partner— in a range of sectors including high technology, defence and the unfolding digital revolution. On the regional front, Paris is as concerned as Delhi at the rising Chinese profile in the Indo-Pacific. It would like to work with India to offer credible alternatives to Chinese economic and military assistance in the region. On the international front, France is deeply concerned about the breakdown of the global order under relentless assault from Trump’s unilateralism. Macron’s decision to have Modi as a special invitee at the G-7 summit is part of the French effort to mobilise India’s political weight in building a new “alliance for multilateralism” with like-minded countries. Modi and Macron have equal stakes in building on this agenda.