The Modi-Macron Meet: Different Strokes, But Common Threads

Despite Modi and Macron’s differences, their impact on their countries’ political landscapes has been tremendous.

6 min read
French President Emmanuel Macron (L) welcomes Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, before their meeting at the Elysee Palace in Paris, France on 3 June 2017. (Photo: AP)
  • Emmanuel Macron is a pro-Europe liberal, who promised to keep France’s borders and society open
  • Modi and Macron managed to single-handedly demolish the opposition
  • Macron’s few weeks old party, La Republique En Marche is set to get a crushing majoring in Parliament’s lower house
  • France and India are committed to bringing electricity to millions of families in the poorest nations
  • US exiting the Paris Treaty lent a sense of urgency to Modi and Macron to renew their nations’ commitments
  • Climate change and terror are threats facing the globe, which are being felt in equal measure

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s rapid visit to France on the last leg of his 4-nation tour of Europe brought the two leaders together for the first time since Macron shook the political landscape in France to claim the throne.

Less than three weeks after the inauguration of a new President and less than a week before he faces his first Parliamentary election to cobble together a governing majority for his term is hardly an appropriate time for a visit by the leader of a country that is an important strategic and business partner.

This was the scenario facing French President Emmanuel Macron as he prepared to receive Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi in Paris for the first ever meeting between the two leaders. Both of them have redefined politics in their respective countries and caused a major upheaval amongst their opponents.


Different Views But Common Thread

There are a lot of differences between Modi and Macron and yet their impact on the political landscape in their respective countries has been tremendous. Modi is a career politician, hailing from the conservative, almost extreme right-wing of the Indian political spectrum.

His three-year reign in New Delhi has seen several incidents of extremist Hindu elements, often aligned with the ruling party, resorting to violence over issues ranging from freedom of expression in schools and universities to cow vigilantism.

The Modi government has also taken a hard stance on issues like migration, and curbed activities of several global NGOs including the Greenpeace and Amnesty International.

Macron, on the other hand, is a trained investment banker, who had a short run as a minister in the government of the previous President Francois Hollande and who was seen as a completely new element in the recent presidential elections.

Macron is a liberal, who is extremely pro-Europe and has promised to keep the French borders and society open as before, despite the ongoing turmoil across Europe, involving immigration and terrorism.

Despite the differences in their views, the two leaders do share a common thread.

Both Modi and Macron have managed to single-handedly demolish, almost destroy, the opposition. 

While Modi has been the mascot of the ruling BJP and has helped the party gain state after state in India, Macron, fresh from his victory in the presidential elections, has managed to build his party from a scratch in less than a year to become the leading political force in the country, decimating both the Socialists and the Republicans – the two principal parties that had dominated the French political landscape since the end of the World War II.

A Force to Be Reckoned With

As Macron prepares for the parliamentary elections later this week, his party, Republic En Marche!, is leading the opinion polls, with a strong, almost unassailable lead over the Republicans and the socialists. His party is expected to get a crushing majority, winning nearly 425 seats in the 577-member Assemblée Nationale, the lower house of the French Parliament.

Unknown in various parts of France till even a year ago, Macron is now expected to head one of the strongest governments and indeed political forces, not just in France, but in Europe as well. 

His political party, La Republique En Marche (The Republic on the Move) did not even exist till a few weeks ago!

It was in this setting that Modi met Macron. When the French president welcomed Modi in his official residence, the Palais Elysee, he held Modi’s hand in a tight grip, looking Modi straight in the eye, while keeping his other hand on Modi’s shoulder, almost like he was trying to keep Modi at bay and to prevent him from resorting to one of his favourite greeting modes – the hug.

One could see similarities in the way Macron approached Modi with the way he had greeted the US President Donald Trump just a few days earlier at the G7 Summit in Germany, where Macron refused to let go of Trump’s hand and kept looking him straight in the eye.

Macron later explained this to be part of his strategy to not appear cowed down by Trump and come across as a strong leader.

A Diverse Menu

Though Modi’s visit was less than 24 hours long, and his luncheon meeting with Macron less than two hours long, the two leaders had a large variety of issues on the table; some long-anticipated and long-pending and some others dragged on the table by developments that happened while Modi was on his European sejour.

The sudden, though not entirely unexpected, decision by the United States President Donald Trump, announcing the withdrawal of the US from the COP21 agreement on climate change gave a lot of substance to the Macron-Modi meet as both France and India, together with China and the United States, had been at the forefront of an effort to clinch a deal at the Climate Change Summit in Paris in December 2015.

A personal chemistry between Modi, the then US President Barack Obama, and Macron’s predecessor in the Palais Elysees, Francois Hollande, with active support from Chinese President Xi Jinping, had made the deal possible.

The deal was even more significant for France and India as the two had stitched together an ambitious multilateral structure, the International Solar Alliance, that aims to promote solar energy in the 121 nations that are located between the Tropics of Cancer and Capricorn and which benefit from over 300 days of sun through the year.

Through ISA, France and India had committed to promote over 1 terawatts of solar power generation, bringing electricity to hundreds of millions of families across some of the poorest nations in the world.

Thus, when Trump decided to tear up the Paris Accord, Modi and Macron jointly promised their renewed commitment to the climate change treaty and the ISA, and both the leaders also lent a sense of urgency to both the engagements.

After his luncheon meeting with Modi in Paris on Saturday, Macron said:

I will be visiting India before the end of the year to attend a summit meeting of the International Solar Alliance, not only to show our joint commitment to protect the climate but also share the innovations and technology of our (French) businesses and to give a new dynamism and a new foundation to furthering French relationship with India.
Emmanuel Macron, French President

“The first part of our discussion was entirely focused on fighting climate change and the fact that both our nations have a lot to do, together, in protecting the global climate,” Macron added.

For his part, Modi said:

The climate change deal needs to be protected and honoured as it is a shared heritage of the world and that if successfully implemented, this will be the best gift that we could leave behind from our generation to the next generations of the world.
Narendra Modi, Indian Prime Minister

Terror and Climate Change Equally Important

Drawing a parallel between terrorism and climate change, Modi added that while every child in France had seen and felt the horrible nature of terrorism – one of the biggest challenges facing the world today – the other big threat, climate change and pollution, is mainly invisible, but one whose impact is being felt all over the world, just like terror’s.

“India and France would work together to protect the world from both these threats, which to us are equally important and strategic,” he said in his joint address with Macron. 

Asserting that green, renewable energy could be the new horizon for developing Indo-French business and trade ties, Modi also welcomed more French investments in this area.

We want to work with France in using technology to improve our transport, our urban development through smart, energy efficient cities and also for our energy needs. This will be the new energy in our bilateral relationship.

Macron also spoke of the importance of increasing the number of Indian students in French universities and boosting tourist arrivals from India, two rapidly growing sectors of the Indian economy, and where France is still performing way behind its potential.

Of course, the French are keen to gain a much larger share in the Indian defence and infrastructure projects, again two areas where French companies are well positioned but can do much better.

Thus, when Macron arrives in New Delhi later this year, expect him to come prepared with a big list of French champions that he would help gain significant market share in India.

(Ranvir Nayar is Managing Director and Founder of a global media house specialised in Europe-Asia business. He can be reached on Twitter @ranvirnayar.)

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