Tripti Nath/New Delhi
French President Emmanuel Macron’s recent visit to the Dargah of the Sufi saint Khwaja Nizamuddin Auliya in Delhi clearly shows that India and France share a strong desire to encourage syncretism. This observation was made by Pankaj Saran, Convenor, NatStrat, a thinktank on strategic affairs, and a seasoned diplomat on Macron’s recent visit to Delhi. He was the sixth French Head of State to have been invited as Chief Guest for our Republic Day celebrations.
On President Macron’s visit to the 700 year-old shrine, Saran, a former Deputy National Security Advisor, said it carried a message for both the French and the Indian audience - the future of the world lies in integration, peaceful coexistence, and celebrating diversity yet maintaining an independent identity and nationality.
Saran said, “The fact that President Macron took time off to spend time at the shrine shows that he also has an equal desire to generate this kind of integration in his own country because almost five percent of the French population is of Muslim descent. It is good for both France and India that we promote this kind of a narrative in our countries.’’
Putting the French President’s visit to the shrine in context, Saran explained, “On the one hand, it represents his belief. It is a testimony to India’s pluralism, multi-culturalism, and multi-religious society and on the other hand, it also shows that France is equally invested in building such a society for itself in its own country. ''
He drew attention to the huge French population who have come from the Maghreb region -Algeria, Tunisia, Morocco, etc.- and have become part and parcel of French life. He said that the Maghreb region has a heavy influence on Sufism and syncretism.
“Paradoxically, France, despite being a European country, is very sensitive to this whole concept of syncretic culture and the need to integrate different ethnicities and languages and this is exactly what India is all about. France is deeply multi-cultural,” he said.
Ambassador Saran said that India can serve as a good example to France and vice-versa of how to build a nation of so much complexity and diversity. “We are far more complex and diverse than France is but this is a relatively new area which we are now talking about where we can exchange experiences, cooperate, and set good examples for each other.’’
On the India-France relationship, he said, “The ties are built on a very strong foundation. The relationship between India and France has grown from strength to strength in the last many years and has shown a lot of resilience, consistency, and depth. When you cooperate with a country in sensitive technologies, in crucial areas like defense, space, energy, nuclear or defense research, you do this only when you have reached a certain minimum level of trust and confidence in each other and, I think, we have reached that. Therefore, all these agreements particularly on defense industrial cooperation on space and other initiatives to create manufacturing capabilities in India using French technology- whether it is hopefully for building of civilian helicopters or aircraft engineers- are very hardcore areas that contribute to hard national strength and are concrete areas of cooperation.
Saran said that the decision to hold annual summits between India and France signifies the special relationship that the two countries share. “This is interesting because we did not have this system officially documented. We have it with very few countries. You normally do not get into this kind of arrangement unless you have a very special relationship. This is something new that has happened during this visit in terms of the convergence and the intent to make it even stronger.’’
He said that the amazing thing about the relationship is that we don’t have any serious or unbridgeable differences between us. “The relationship with France has become very robust and transcends all sectors. It is a full universe of cooperation.’’
Talking of trade ties between India and France, Saran said that India wants more French investment in such a way that it generates more jobs in India. He hailed the agreement between NSIL and its French counterpart to cooperate in the space sector at the level of start-ups.
Saran also welcomed the French use of UPI which has now enabled Indians to use rupees for transactions in France. “The next big game is going to be digital technology and Artificial Intelligence. These are niche areas.’’
Making a mention of other promising areas of cooperation such as environment and climate change, Saran said that the two countries have agreed to cooperate on drafting an internationally legally binding instrument on controlling or banning plastic pollution. There are many references to the Oceans conference, to the next CoP on Climate Change.
On the two countries’ cooperation in the Southwest Indian Ocean Saran said, “From a maritime perspective, India and France can do a lot in that region obviously because France has island territories. They have a huge amount of EEZ, maritime space, and a vast Indo-Pacific area. It is a huge maritime power. So is India. I am very encouraged by these decisions.’’
He said that the initiative during President Macron’s visit to strengthen education links will definitely contribute to strengthening ties between India and France, the veteran diplomat said, “India is a huge source of international students for the entire world but most of our traffic has been to the English-speaking world. France occupies only a small proportion in terms of the Indian students going overseas. The efforts to expose Indian students to French educational institutions are good. Indian students will always be an asset to France. It is also good for us to diversify our interface with the rest of the world. ‘’