July 14: why Narendra Modi, Emmanuel Macron's distinguished guest, is debating?

July 14 why Narendra Modi, the distinguished guest of Emmanuel Macron, is debated

It is a tradition which, for several years, tends to become systematic: France officially invites a country, represented by its Head of State, to the July 14 parade. This guest of honor attends the ceremony from the top of the rostrum, alongside the French president.

We remember the emotion of King Hassan II, who was to die nine days later, seeing three companies of the Moroccan Royal Guard on the Champs-Élysées, in 1999; of the british troops in 2004 ; of Germany ten years later ; or even nine Central and Eastern European countries in 2022. In 2017, Donald Trump, also invited, was so impressed, it is said, that he had considered organizing the same parades in the United States.

Associating a foreign power with the military parade of this national holiday fulfills several functions. First of all, this makes it possible to place the military gesture in an atmosphere of cooperation and openness to the world, and not of warlike defiance, brazen nationalism or demonstrations of intimidation. Russian military parades (very pale this year for obvious reasons), Chinese or a fortiori north korean are assumed to be all to the glory of a regime.

This then makes it possible to take advantage of a French attribute of symbolic influence: July 14 and the Revolution are historical events with great global significance, and inviting foreign personalities to celebrate them highlights this often exalted in French history… even if French presidents also like to invite their counterparts into the symbol of the monarchy that is Versailles.

Finally, it gives the possibility of emphasizing a relationship, a political priority, but also of creating an expectation: who will have the honor of being invited? Birthdays may justify the choice: 72 countries in 2014 for the centenary of the First World War, and Australia and New Zealand in 2016, on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the Battle of the Somme.

In 2023, it is therefore India, led for eight years by Narendra Modi, which is in the spotlight. A choice that has aroused reservations.

A gesture always scrutinized

The questions "Why India?" and "Why Narendra Modi?" do not present the same issues. It is possible to put a country in the spotlight through cultural events (cultural "years" are held regularly and, for example among others, the Indian Embassy in Paris has just organized the festival Namaste France. Invite marching troops presents a completely different tone. And inviting a head of state or government can spark protests given his image and his practice of power.

In 2010, the invitation of 13 African countries and their Heads of State by Nicolas Sarkozy had caused controversy. If the African continent still deserves attention (and Paris had just aligned the military pensions paid to African veterans who fought in the French armies with those of the French), associations were moved to welcoming "dictators" and armies accused of abuses.

Two years earlier, in 2008, when it came to launching a new Union for the MediterraneanIs the presence of Syrian President Bashar Al-Assad who outraged.

Bashar Al-Assad at the July 14 parade (INA archive, July 14, 2008).

The invitation made that same year to other leaders little known for their attachment to democracy - the Tunisian Ben Ali, the Egyptian Hosni Mubarak - also shocked: "At the official platform of July 14, place de la Concorde, there will be the square of dictators", wrote a daily shortly before the festivities. A few years earlier, the Syrian president was still boycotted by Jacques Chirac for his likely role in the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005.

Realpolitik has its reasons that the heart ignores

But the Realpolitik has its reasons that the heart ignores. If Jacques Chirac boycotted Bashar Al-Assad after 2005, he had been in 2000 one of the only Western representatives present at the funeral of his father Hafez Al-Assad (President of Syria from 1970 until his death), and then believed that the son might be a reformer. Nicolas Sarkozy for his part considered that his Union for the Mediterranean project required an invitation from all the leaders of the region, even authoritarian ones. Moments of meditation or celebrations also serve this diplomacy.

Since taking over as Prime Minister, Narendra Modi (who had already has been the subject of a real boycott by Westerners before, when he was head of the state of Gujarat) is regularly criticized by NGOs. However, he is not Bashar Al-Assad.

Firstly because he is at the head of a nuclear power, most populous country in the world soon to be the world's third-largest economy. Then because he did not wage a civil war against his own people, with the double support of Russia and Iran, and was not accused of war crimes by the French representative to the United Nations.

There remains no less than one authoritarian drift is today attributed to the Indian leader, who seems irremovable since he became prime minister in 2014, at the head of a Hindu nationalist party (the BJP, for Bharatiya Janata Party).

An national-religious drift also, in a country where there is now fear for the rights of muslims (16% of the population, about 200 million people), and where Hindu identity is now glorified.

The arrest of the main opponent, Rahul Gandhi, for defamation against the Prime Minister, as well as various BJP-related financial scandals, lead many observers to assert that democracy in India is on the decline. Institutes like V-Dem (Sweden) or Freedom House (United States) no longer want to call the country "the largest democracy in the world", highlighting the bullying practices of power. There is therefore concern. Should it prevail? What posture to adopt in this type of situation?

India's choice

We can listen to those who, for the sake of vigilance, advocate not talking with authoritarian regimes. When Emmanuel Macron receives the Egyptian President Sisi (January 2022) or the Saudi Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman (June 2023), the same arguments are heard.

One can also hear other voices, who believe that diplomacy is not just about discussing with the countries with which we would agree on everything. It would even be made for the opposite, that is to say, to iron out differences and maintain dialogue.

The current French president has never hidden that such was his conception, even when it came to talk with Vladimir Putin after the invasion of Ukraine.

Maintain a strategic partnership

In this regard, the invitation extended to Modi can be seen as a means of maintaining the strategic partnership initiated with India in 1998 by Jacques Chirac, in a then hailed effort to open up Asian horizons to French diplomacy (another strategic partnership had been signed with Beijing the previous year).

But there is more. Faced with the rise of Chinese power, and more generally because of its own rise, India has become a major player in the international, diplomatic, economic and military system. Narendra Modi's state visit to the United States in June 2023 (subject to the same reviews), and the quality of the reception reserved for him by Joe Biden, showed that this Indian role had not escaped Washington.

India is part of QUAD (quadrilateral dialogue for security), this informal alliance in Asia-Pacific, alongside the United States, Japan and Australia. The country, which also maintains the largest diaspora in the world, is now courted. Should France get out of this game? Of course, answering this question in the negative does not mean that one should subscribe to everything that happens in India.

Other points: Paris defends the term "Indo-Pacific region" to discuss Asian issues, in particular because of its dual presence in the Indian Ocean and the Pacific Ocean, with its overseas territories.

New Delhi is also a potential customer, particularly in the field of armaments (we mention the purchase of 26 Rafale Marine). Emmanuel Macron would also like to be invited to the next BRICS summit (Brazil, Russia, India, China, South Africa) to be held in the fall in South Africa, to relaunch its relationship with the global South. So many reasons not to shun the Indian Prime Minister.

The aspiration of several Southern giants to a new recognition, their grievances against a West deemed hegemonic who would like to maintain an anachronistic status quo in the hierarchy of international powers, are realities that a boycott would not make disappear. Stopping the dialogue would even be counterproductive.

However, do not expect miracles. When Modi speaks with Washington, London or Paris, it is to be listened to and treated as an equal. Not to be drawn into a chapter, nor drawn into a Russian-Ukrainian war seen from the South as a matter for Europeans and which he considers not to be his.

If Modi's invitation only serves to condone the excesses attributed to him, then the results will be negative. But if behind the images of the official platform of July 14 a dialogue could continue, making it possible to contribute to avoiding in good intelligence harmful political drifts, then the protocol and the tradition would be good.

Frédéric charillon, professor of political science, Clermont Auvergne University (UCA)

This article is republished from The Conversation under Creative Commons license. Read theoriginal article.

Image credit: Shutterstock/ Frederic Legrand - COMEO

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