Sunday 16 July 2023

In Paris, Modi and Macron showcase the emerging world order (The Sunday Guardian)

 A New World requires New Thought. This is the implicit message behind the policy stance of the New India that is emerging within the ongoing transformation of the globe into a world where democracy and freedom prevail over tyranny and domination.

New Delhi

The world has changed since the close of the 1990s. It would be premature to call the present state of the ongoing transformation a “new world order”, as order can only be found after an equilibrium is reached, and that has yet to be established. Indeed, the nature of that equilibrium is precisely the contest between the two blocs involved. Within the world order that is emerging out of the present flux, India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi is playing a keystone role. Which explains why in the space of a few weeks, the Prime Minister concluded a state visit to Washington and followed it up with a similar high-stakes visit to Paris. In both capitals, he was welcomed with warmth and fanfare by Presidents Biden and Macron, much to the grief of elements seeking to distance India and the Atlantic Alliance from each other. There is symbolic logic in PM Modi being the Guest of Honour on France’s most important date, Bastille Day. The storming of the Bastille was accompanied by calls for Liberty, Fraternity and Equality. In the 20th century, it was India that was the initiator of the chain reaction that finally brought a close to colonialism in Asia and Africa. For a 21st century mind, it is both just and logical that the freedoms for which the citizens of Paris stormed the Bastille are or should be the patrimony not just of a few but of all the nations in the world.

India has always opposed efforts at a unipolar world order. And in the 1960s, it was France under Charles de Gaulle who resisted efforts at domination from the outside, and who insisted on mutual respect between allies and partners. This is precisely the principle that is being sought by India as it seeks out partners to ensure that together the Indo-Pacific can be made free of domination and secure for all. The goal is to ensure that efforts at converting the South China Sea into a private lake controlled by a single country are prevented. France is as desirous as the US and India, not to mention ASEAN, that is issues of sovereignty and freedom of navigation in the South China Sea be maintained as per international rather than any domestic law.

Within Europe, France has a particular resonance in India. For it was in 1998 under Jacques Chirac that it became the only western country not to condemn the 1998 Pokhran II nuclear explosions. In contrast, the US, the UK, Canada and Australia were obnoxiously scathing in their responses. The subtext of their protests was that a country with a per capita income as low as India ought not to be in the nuclear league at all. President Chirac looked beyond the present at the time into the future, and saw immediately that India was a country that the western world needed to befriend and not alienate. And that India merited a seat at the High Table of international diplomacy. French President Emmanuel Macron early into his tenure understood that a close relationship between India and the Atlantic Alliance was indispensable for global security, notably in the Indo-Pacific, where France has long been active. Just as was done by Biden in Washington, Modi was welcomed by Macron not just as the Head of Government of a country that is well on the way to emerging as the world’s third superpower, after the US and China, but as a close friend.
Soon after Narendra Modi was sworn in as PM, whether it be David Cameron or Boris Johnson in 10 Downing Street, or Donald J. Trump or Joseph R. Biden Jr in the White House, or Scott Morrison or Anthony Albanese at the Prime Minister’s office in Canberra, each quickly became a friend of the Prime Minister of India. It is said of the English that they have the utmost (if unexpressed) contempt for Indians who try to be more English than the English. In contrast, Narendra Modi is Indian and is proud of, and comfortable with, that fact. He is not among those who try to distance themselves through word and deed from their country and the totality of its history. Confidence in his country, and pride in being part of it is a factor that has drawn world leaders sharing the same strategic vision into forming a close friendship with Prime Minister Modi. This is evident not just within the western world, but in the Global South as well, whether it be the leaders of the Pacific Island Countries or the Gulf Cooperation Council. It was not accidental that on the way home from Paris, the Prime Minister stopped off at Abu Dhabi to meet his close friend, UAE President Zayed. The GCC and India join with ASEAN in being part of Southern Asia, the arc that is the hinterland of India, just as India is part of their hinterland.

Both Modi and Macron, being Heads of Government, see with particular clarity that the world is changing, and that they need to ensure that their countries change with it. Just as the eruption in just the past three years of significant climatic shifts in multiple locations has left Climate Deniers in a state of confusion, societal dynamics within democratic societies east and west have become too obvious to ignore. In France, President Macron is at a stage in life when he can expect to live at least four decades more, and knows that the present structure of social welfare to the population by the state is already fiscally unsustainable, and will collapse if not remedied.

Those who see a racial element in every human phenomenon claim that recent riots, arson and violence in Paris and Marseille was because of barriers to those not of European ethnicity reaching the same levels of empowerment and improvement in France as the others. The Indian diaspora in France, with whom Prime Minister Narendra Modi spent an hour during his just-concluded visit to France, proves them wrong. Overall, the diaspora has transformed within France into achievers and not misfits, and to a level where the per capita income of an Indian family settled in France exceeds the national average. Nor is this the consequence of leaving behind their cultural heritage and adopting that of the majority in the way that a Bobby Jindal has. Their traditions, including their ancestral faiths, have not been a barrier to self-advancement in France, a country that is majority Catholic and justifiably proud of that deeply traditional branch of the Christian faith.
It has been pointed out that the road near Paris where the death at the hands of a trigger-happy policeman of a youth took place is split into two segments, with one section being visibly less appetising to live in than the other. The explanation offered for lack of advancement of those living in the less privileged length of the same road is that there are racial barriers, a view that ignores the fact that more than a million French citizens who are of native French ethnicity share the poverty of those immigrant families in the lower-income segment of the road where the youth lost his life. If a French citizen were to act in the belief that his or her ethnicity or background presented an insuperable obstacle to self-advancement, the effort and the hope that impels an individual to excel would be absent. Such a dystopian view of French society is not shared by the Indian diaspora. For those who have succumbed to the paralysing effect of belief in victimhood, hope and productive effort have been replaced by a hatred of the majority in France, and anger at the French government. Such unthinking rage leads to riots such as what was just witnessed in France, when what is needed by all citizens native born or immigrants is to take advantage of the opportunities available, especially in education, and climb up the ladder. President Macron’s detractors, who condemn French society as racist and skewed in favour of the majority, forget that their violent actions will lead not to an alternative leader who accepts their view that there is bias and inequality, but Marine Le Pen, who is far closer to what is often termed the radical nativist fringe in France than Macron will ever be. The more riots there are, and the greater the dysfunction amongst segments of the population that paralyse initiative while experiencing rising anger and hatred, the closer will Le Pen be to occupying the Elysee Palace.

France is a country where citizens are proud of their traditions, as is India. But as in France, in India as well there are citizens who are tutored to believe that they are irreversibly disadvantaged, and who therefore channel their energies into acts of hatred, including against the government.

India is a country that was tragically partitioned on the sole ground of faith, and in an unexpected reaction, successive political leaders post-1947 sought to de-legitimize pride in ancient Indian traditions as being “reactionary”. India is a country where there continues to be the constant drumbeat of an imaginary duality between the “majority” and the “minority”, as though both were of different ethnicities. They are not, for they share the same DNA and the same civilisational strand that stretches back more than 5,000 years. The same individuals who see nothing wrong in a US President swearing his oath of office on the Holy Bible regard as retrogressive any similar move of swearing by a holy book on the part of an elected official in India. The Head of Government of the UK, an Anglican country, Prime Minister Rishi Sunak took his oath on the Bhagavad Gita, without eyebrows being raised. Religion is a private matter, and needs to remain that way, especially in a democracy. Secularism does not mean the division of society into majority and minority, but equal treatment to all by the government.

Efforts by the lobbies hostile to democracy at creating and thereafter perpetuating fault lines within society in major democracies have been going on for at least the past decade. Each major democracy needs to deal with the threat to social stability represented by such moves, and in this, an exchange of information about the experience of each country is essential. There are leaders who remain tethered to views that have since lost relevance, and as a consequence, policy gets designed that fails to address problems and where they are occurring adequately. Amidst the diversion of attention within the western world caused by the Russia-Ukraine war, India under Prime Minister Modi has remained focused as to the present threat rather than allow itself to be obsessed with past challengers. India has not followed the example of those partners of it who have locked the doors to access of Russia’s resources, and who are increasing Moscow’s reliance on Beijing by an obsessive focus on what is now a lesser threat to the West as compared to what the democracies are facing in the form of an authoritarian superpower. India led by Modi has focused not on fuelling the war but in promoting an immediate onset of peace.

The welcome received by the Prime Minister first in Washington and now in Paris indicates that the reality and the existential nature of Cold War 2.0 has finally entered the core strategic thought and policies of major democracies across both sides of the Atlantic. Naya Sansar, Naya Soch. A New World requires New Thought. This is the implicit message behind the policy stance of the New India that is emerging within the ongoing transformation of the globe into a new world order where democracy and freedom prevail over tyranny and domination. The two state visits of the Prime Minister to Washington and Paris form part of the building blocks that are being laid by great democracies working in concert towards a new world order that empowers all countries rather than a few at the expense of the many.

In Paris, Modi and Macron showcase the emerging world order

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