India’s close friendship with France was at the fore this week, first because of a large defence aircraft procurement deal that was granted initial approval, and then because of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s arrival in Paris, where he is scheduled to attend the Bastille Day military parade as the guest of honour and hold discussions with President Macron and other top officials. Modi and India’s rising stars in the West tie directly into increasing mistrust of China, which is also India’s main economic and military rival. India’s potential as a counterweight for China is exactly why Western democracies that slam China and others for alleged human rights violations suddenly develop memory loss the minute Modi shows up. It is also why, when several countries were concerned about having to stop trading with Russia in the aftermath of invasion of Ukraine, India actually increased its trade volume.
But India’s friendship with France actually predates the rise of China — France has long defied arms restrictions, including US sanctions imposed on India after its 1998 nuclear tests. Given this, it is no surprise that India has plans to add to its arsenal of Rafale fighter jets, announcing its intention to purchase 26 more jets for its navy, along with three Scorpene-class submarines, which are diesel-electric attack boats, five of which are already in service, with a sixth recently completed and awaiting commission. The new aircraft and submarines will set India back about $10 billion and are intended to help upgrade India’s aging submarine fleet, which is mostly Soviet or Russian origin, and to populate the INS Vikrant — India’s first indigenously-built aircraft carrier that was commissioned late last year.
Still, it is not just the strategic relationship at play. Many insiders have highlighted the “personal chemistry” between Modi and Macron, which is in itself surprising, considering Modi’s bigoted and fascist track record and Macron’s big talk on democratic values. But perhaps this is the biggest truth in international relations — values take a back seat to interests.
Published in The Express Tribune, July 15th, 2023.