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14 Jul, 2023 08:54

Macron charms Modi in Paris, describes India as ‘key partner’ and ‘giant of history’

The Indian prime minister was conferred with France’s highest civilian honor at the Elysee Palace during an official visit
Macron charms Modi in Paris, describes India as ‘key partner’ and ‘giant of history’

French President Emmanuel Macron described New Delhi as a “key partner” in his country’s future during a charm offensive for visiting Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who is the guest of honor at the annual Bastille Day parade in Paris on July 14.

Macron conferred Modi with the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honor – France’s highest civilian and military award – during a ceremony at the Elysee Palace. It is the first time an Indian prime minister has received the award. Previous recipients include Nelson Mandela, Britain’s King Charles III, and former German chancellor Angela Merkel. The French president praised India prior to a dinner at the palace, describing the nation as “a giant in the history of the world that will have a determining role in our future.” He said France sees India as a strategic partner and friend.

Modi appeared alongside Macron on Friday, when he presided over the annual military parade marking France’s national day. Units of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force took part in the parade, which included three French-made Rafale fighters at India’s service doing a fly-past.

Ahead of his meeting with Macron on Thursday, Modi held talks with his French counterpart Elisabeth Borne. They discussed the prospect of furthering cooperation in areas such as the economy and trade, energy, environment, education, mobility, railways, digital public infrastructure, and museums. Modi also met with representatives of the Indian diaspora at La Seine Musicale in Paris on Thursday afternoon, when he spoke about the multifaceted India-France strategic partnership, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary. 

In a major announcement, Modi said an agreement had been reached for the use of India’s unified payment interface (UPI) in France, which will initially be made available at the Eiffel Tower. He also announced the opening of a new consulate in the French port city of Marseille. 

Addressing the diaspora, Modi said India was “the mother of democracy” and a model of diversity. “India is working towards becoming a developed country in the next 25 years… International agencies say that India is a bright spot…, India has a lot of potential for investments,” the prime minister said, adding that the country was committed to providing facilities and ensuring the safety of all Indians who are settled abroad. “Whether it’s Ukraine or Sudan, Afghanistan or Iraq, we have always come forward to protect our countrymen. Indians settled abroad are equally important to us like the citizens of India,” he told members of the Indian community in Paris, many of whom had traveled for up to 11 hours to see their leader. 

On a lighter note, Modi referred to French football star Kylian Mbappe, who he suggested has more fans in India than in France. He also drew attention to his nation’s space ambitions, referring to India’s latest Moon mission Chandrayaan-3, which will be launched on Friday afternoon. The prime minister announced relief for Indian students who are pursuing master’s degrees in France. They will now be given a five-year, long-term post-study visa, replacing the two-year work visa regime.

Earlier on Thursday, ten high-profile individuals, including economist Thomas Piketty and former French ambassador to Denmark France Zimeray, urged President Macron in an article published by Le Monde to “encourage” Modi to “end repression of the civil society, assure freedom of major media [outlets] and protect religious liberty.” 

Modi, 72, who governs the world’s largest population, seldom interacts with the media at home or abroad. However, responding to a question related to human rights at a rare news conference in Washington during his maiden state visit to the US in June, he said that “democracy runs in our veins” and insisted there was “absolutely no space for discrimination.”

Modi’s visit to France coincided with a European Parliament vote on a motion regarding violence in Manipur, a remote state in the northeast of India. The Strasbourg-based EU body passed a resolution on Thursday condemning “politically motivated, divisive policies that promote Hindu majoritarianism” in Manipur, where violence has been unabated since the beginning of May. New Delhi has hit out at the EU Parliament, stating that "interference in India’s internal affairs is unacceptable, and reflects a colonial mindset".

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