Today is July 14, France's National Day, and it would be interesting to have a fresh look at Indo-French relations and how they impact the nuclear deal with the United States. As expressed on television and newspaper interviews by the French ambassador in India, Jerome Bonnafont, France endorses the controversial Indo-US nuclear pact "which is good for India".
France is of course eagerly awaiting its signature, so that it can try to sell to India its nuclear technology and maybe one or two nuclear plants. But what France also does not say, is that it silently thinks that India, contrary to the five declared nuclear powers, is not a mature and wise enough nation to handle military nuclear technology and that it agrees with the US that India's military nuclear programme be capped so as to profit only civil nuclear energy.
For if you read in between the lines of the G8 chairman's statement at the end of last week's three-day summit ('We look forward to working with India, the International Atomic Energy Agency, the Nuclear Suppliers Group and other partners to advance India's non-proliferation commitments and progress'), the safeguards agreement will 'definitely not' permit spare parts or fuel -- even in the event of any shortage -- to be transferred between nuclear facilities under IAEA safeguards and those outside it as part of India's weapons programme.
We have also seen that finally, after a much publicised show of bravado, French President Nicolas Sarkozy has agreed to attend the opening of the Beijing Olympics. Under Chinese pressure, he will also probably not officially meet the Dalai Lama when His Holiness goes to France in August. One has to understand the dilemma of the French president: Paris has invested massively in China and the heads of France's conglomerates have been after him to rectify his attitude post the Olympic flame fiasco in France.
Fair enough. But then India should ask four questions of Sarkozy:
1) How is it that France is only the seventh investor in India, far behind the US, Germany, or even Korea, when contrary to China, India is a pro-Western democracy, an island of freedom and liberalism in an Asia torn by Islamic fundamentalism (witness the recent bombing of the Indian embassy in Kabul) and by China's hegemonic tendencies which are felt from Burma to Nepal, from Taiwan to Arunachal Pradesh?
2) Why did France recognise China's sovereignty over Tibet, a nation with an independent culture and religion, more than 10 years ago when it refuses to extend the same right to India over Kashmir, which has been historically and geographically a part of India for at least 5000 years and is the seat of Shivaism?
3) India does not question the fact that Paris feels that Corsica belongs to France, though it is an island. India does not contest that the Basque is Spanish territory; India did not say anything when the British went thousands of miles to fight for the Falklands, when geographically it belongs to Argentina... Then why the hell is the Western world -- and France -- contesting India's right over Kashmir? Like not trusting India to handle nuclear military technology, it does seem to spring from an unconscious sentiment of superiority...
But then France might very well answer that it understands India's concerns over Kashmir, but that it does not want to upset the Indo-Pak dialogue (which actually is only on paper, as Pakistan has betrayed every peace move made by India). But in truth, the French are actually falling for the Pakistani nuclear blackmail of an attack on India. Is that why, India could again ask France, you continue to sell arms to Pakistan? It might also well be that France does not want to antagonise parts of its volatile Muslim minority, although this also seems to be a bit of a fallacious argument.
Yet, President Sarkozy is a man of vision and is not afraid to break conventions, as he has shown in his private and public life. If he would make the gesture (which would cost him nothing) of recognising India's right over Kashmir as France did to China over Tibet, it would earn France immense gratitude in India for it would be a first: it would pave the way for greater economic cooperation between India and France and it would give France a bargaining chip with China who is always blackmailing her (and other Western nations) by saying it will cancel its Airbus orders and buy Boeings (and vice-versa) whenever it is displeased. Because the moment France diversifies its investments in Asia to India, China would feel the pinch.
Lastly, it would pave the way for a political and military cooperation between Europe and India and recognise -- at last India's immense geopolitical importance in Asia.
Ah, I can already see the faces of my friends in the French embassy in Delhi: "Oh, again this right-wing Hindu lover, this fundamentalist, this anti-Muslim, is at it". But France, its diplomats in India and its Indologists should do well to come out of their glass towers if they want to stay in tune with 21st century Asia. They should firstly accept diversity of opinion over India and not only see India through the eternal clichés of the India specialists in France who for decades have associated India in the minds of French people with poverty, castes, Hindu 'fundamentalists' and 'oppressed' minorities. The French embassy in Delhi should thus seek a diversity of opinion among those who have lived in India for long and know India well, so that it properly reflects to the French government in Paris the incredible and complicated diversity that is India.
And once more the question has to be asked of France: why don't you recognise Kashmir as you recognise Tibet? Then India need not sign a nuclear treaty with the US, which will bind her politically and economically to the Americans for two decades. France would be an excellent nuclear, economic and political partner for India and it would help preserve a bipolar world, where Corsica, Tibet and Kashmir remain in the fold of their mother nations, while enjoying true autonomy.