M D NalapatFriday, May 29, 2015 - During the period in office of the first BJP-led government (1998-2004), France was the favoured country in Europe. Much of the sheen was caused by the Francophile tendencies of the “Executive PM”, National Security Advisor Brajesh Mishra, whose views carried more heft than that of ordinary Cabinet ministers in Vajpayee government. However, goodwill for France was also because of appreciation of independent foreign policy of Jacques Chirac, then President. In particular, Chirac refused to join US President Bill Clinton and his counterparts in Australia and Canada in adopting a tone towards 1998 nuclear tests by India that looked almost racist in their venom.
Unlike successors such as Nicholas Sarkozy, who seemed eager to morph into Tony Blair-style poodles of the US President of the time, Chirac adopted a foreign policy much closer to that of Charles de Gaulle, who during 1939-45 acted as though France were still a great power rather than a conquered nation. Thanks to Winston Churchill, who loved France almost as much as he did his own country, Paris joined London, Moscow, Washington and (at that time) Nanjing as permanent members of the UN Security Council. Despite its size and the inevitability of its hiving away from the British empire, Churchill blocked Delhi joining the list. Then as always, the “Lion of Britain” adopted the petty, vindictive approach towards India that ensured deaths of nearly six million people in Bihar during 1943-44,because then Prime Minister of the UK refused to sanction grain ships to the province.
Afterwards, in an act which may charitably by described as daft, Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru of India rejected suggestions from first Washington and later Moscow that India take over the Asian seat in the UNSC occupied by China, a country still to be recognised by much of the world, with India joining the Soviet Union in being first to give international legitimacy to Mao Zedong and the Chinese Communist Party as they took over reins of government in 1949.
Interestingly, the present Prime Minister, David Cameron, has won back a lot of the goodwill and ground lost during the tenure in office of many of his predecessors. Cameron has adopted a strategy towards India that has been helpful to better relations, and has succeeded in a far greater measure than appears on the surface, in part because he has broad-based his diplomacy in contrast to the Labour Party, which for decades has concentrated almost all its attention on the Congress Party , specifically the Nehru family. The present Labour Party leader, Edward Milliband, is perceived as being in the same corner as Harold Wilson (who thought London still mattered in Delhi) or Tony Blair (who followed the US line almost to smallest point), in contrast to Cameron, who is making his Conservative Party a far more attractive option for voters of Indian descent in UK than its competitors.
However, when it comes to influence in India, even Cameron has had to cede ground to Germany, he country which has emerged as the entrepoint of diplomacy towards Europe. It was this country which was the earliest to recognize the Modi phenomenon, with its envoy to India, Michael Steiner, hosting a tea two years ago for the then Chief Minister of Gujarat (which was boycotted by the French envoy but attended by every other EU ambassador resident in Delhi). This was the first crack in the wall that had been built by the EU (following the lead given by the US, where Secretary of State Hillary Clinton gave personal attention to measures against Modi) to discredit a politician who was emerging as the favourite of India’s most potent voting bloc, the middle classes, and which unlike some other groups comprises of citizens across religion, region and lifestyle.
The worry within the EU is that in less than a decade, China may be able to compete with both Airbus as well as Mercedes-Benz in the quality of products manufactured, an edge that may be challenged through production facilities in India, a country with an abundance of labour. The adoption of German methods may help such workers to ramp up their productivity to get closer to the best international standards, although in this task, Prime Minister Modi will need the cooperation of Human Resource Development Minister Smriti Irani,a glamorous and feisty former television personality who was entrusted this key portfolio by Modi on May 27,2014.
HRD Minister Smriti Irani faces competition in the glamour field by Germany’s Defense Minister, Ursula von der Leyen, who charmed both the public as well as the government by a very successful visit to India this week. Unlike those voices from the developed countries who regard India as being from a different level in terms of status, von der Leyen avoided any trace of condescension in her interactions with counterparts in the Ministry of Defense in India, thereby boosting the prospect of Germany playing a key role in future supplies of military equipment to India, especially submarines. The plan is to build six submarines in India that would assist the navy in its job of ensuring security in the vast tracts of ocean which surround India. Although an agreement was signed with France several years ago to produce Scorpene submarines, as yet none of these have been delivered, and both timelines as well as cost have ballooned. Together with Germany, the Modi government is also looking to Japan for cooperation in the production of defense equipment, especially for the air force and the navy. During the next few years, it is expected that Berlin and Tokyo will increase interaction with India, not only in the defense field, but more generally across manufacturing industry
These days, voters look to results, they look to a betterment of their lives as a consequence of policy, and Narendra Modi is very aware of such a reality, coming as he does from India’s most pragmatic state, Gujarat. Its manufacturing and vocational skills and the size of its economy have added to the attraction of Germany for India as a strategic partner. For the first time since a “strategic partnership” between the Indian lion and the German eagle was formalised in 2001,the India visit of Ursula von der Leyen has brought the concept to life and to operational significance, giving her country an edge over its European partners in the world’s most populous democracy.