New Delhi, April 26: President Emmanuel Macron’s victory in France, carved out in exceptionally difficult circumstances, has triggered quiet celebrations in India.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi quickly tweeted a message of congratulations to Macron, with whom he shares a treasured personal chemistry.
“Congratulations to my friend @EmmanuelMacron on being re-elected as the President of France! I look forward to continuing working together to deepen the India-France Strategic Partnership,” tweeted the Prime Minister.
Two points stand out in the tweet. PM Modi called President Macron his “friend” spotlighting the special personal bond between the two leaders. Second, the PM made it plain that India wanted to “deepen the India-France Strategic Partnership”, underscoring a vision of elevating India-France ties to an altogether new level, which will count on the global stage.
There are real reasons why India-France ties can together touch the sky. Both countries have an extensive and growing partnership in the arena of cutting-edge technology, which will count in making advanced weapons. The two share a deep and abiding geopolitical interest in the Indian Ocean. Besides, the two countries are merely scratching the surface in their collaboration in Africa where they can leverage each other’s comparative strengths.
Grasping the moment, PM Modi is heading to Paris to personally convey his good wishes to Macron – a special gesture that is meant to tunnel the India-France relationship to unchartered territory and, possibly, help it attain escape-velocity.
The Hindustan Times is reporting that PM Modi is expected to meet Macron between May 2-6 when he visits Europe, including Germany, the other European heavyweight.
Already special partners in the tech sphere, Modi’s visit is likely to impart urgency to transfer to India Air Independent Propulsion (AIP) technology, which allows conventional submarines to stay underwater for a long duration, greatly enhancing their lethality. The transfers will be part of India’s refurbished 30-year plan for modernising its submarine fleet.
The key to updated deterrence are the changes that have been made to the 30-year submarine plan, which was first approved in July 1999 under the leadership of former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee. The original plan approved in July 1999, had envisaged induction of 24 diesel attack submarines.
But in view of China’s military rise and aggressive posturing, the Indian navy, instead, now wants to induct 18 conventional diesel attack submarines including those with AIP technology, of which, France is arguably a market leader.
The transfer of AIP technology will be part of PM Modi’s signature Atmanirbhar Bharat project. France is also expected to build high thrust aircraft engines in India apart from working with New Delhi on mapping the Indian Ocean bed.
On nuclear technology, French energy group EDF intends to build six, third-generation EPR reactors in Jaitapur, western India. Once complete they will generate 10 gigawatts (GW) of electricity, sufficient to light up 70 million households.
In the geopolitical space, France is already helping India to extend its reach in the Indian Ocean.
In 2018 the two countries signed an agreement to provide reciprocal access to each other’s military facilities. The document is similar to the LEMOA accord that New Delhi had signed with Washington.
Following the Indo-French agreement, the Indian Navy could extend its reach in the western Indian Ocean. India can potentially take advantage of French military facilities at the island of La Reunion, Mayotte, and even the French Southern and Atlantic Lands.
India and France can further cement their strategic ties after the formation of the Australia -UK-US (AUKUS) anti-China security alliance – essentially a white English-speaking club that leaves out a badly miffed France and any other Asian power including India and Japan.
Unsurprisingly, Macron offered to elevate ties with India to an altogether new level, soon after AUKUS was signed. In a seminal telephonic conversation with Modi in September last year, the two leaders vowed to “act jointly in an open and inclusive Indo-Pacific area”. That could imply anything from intelligence sharing, coordinated patrolling, to sharing of naval bases in the Indian Ocean Region, where, for historical reasons, France has a significant presence.
Second, the French President pointedly asserted that Paris respected India’s “strategic autonomy” – a phrase that implies that New Delhi, as a significant power following the 1998 nuclear tests, was free to bond with other players of the global multipolar system. In other words, France was not expecting any zero-sum strategic commitments from New Delhi.
Third, France was ready to open the floodgates of its world class technology to India. A statement from Macron’s office said that Paris was ready to strengthen India’s “industry and technology base, as part of a close relationship based on trust and mutual respect”.
Finally, and perhaps most significantly, the French were saying that they could become the vanguard of a special security relationship between India and Europe.
The commitment to stability in the Indo-Pacific region would be under “the framework of the Europe-India relationship and European initiatives in the Indo-Pacific”, said a statement released by the French embassy in New Delhi.
Macron’s offers have been substantiated by the transfer of Rafale fighter jets, especially at time of India’s need – when New Delhi was engaged in a tight standoff with the Chinese in Eastern Ladakh. The French have also gone out of their way to back India in the UN Security Council – a position that has not gone unnoticed by India’s power elite.