Modi's tri-nation tour

Links with the West

Print edition : May 15, 2015

German Chancellor Angela Merkel and Narendra Modi visit the booth of the Swiss automation group ABB at the Hannover Messe industrial trade fair in Hanover, Germany, on April 13. Photo: TOBIAS SCHWARZ/AFP

Prime Minister Narendra Modi and Stephen Harper, Prime Minister of Canada, at Gurdwara Khalsa Diwan in Vancouver on April 16. Photo: Don MacKinnon/AFP

Narendra Modi at the Indian Memorial at the Neuve Chapelle in France on April 11. Photo: Subhash Chandra Malhotra /PTI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s three-nation tour has been significant, with a rich haul of agreements signed, understandings reached, and diverse constituencies touched.

PRIME MINISTER NARENDRA MODI’S THREE-nation, nine-day tour (April 9-16) brought remarkable glimpses of Paris, Berlin, Ottawa and several other Western cities into millions of homes in India and around the world. It was an opportunity for the country to see how its government was projecting India in advanced democracies and an occasion for those developed economies to judge for themselves the potential and future trajectory of the world’s largest democracy.

The subtle shift in the portrayal of the Indian economy from a slow-moving elephant to a powerful lion on the prowl (remember the logo of the “Make in India” campaign) is significant. While speaking at the inauguration of the Hannover Fair, Modi thanked the host for “allowing us to unleash our lions in the city”.

Media reports on Modi’s tour seemed to highlight defence, the economy and the diaspora as its defining facets respectively in France, Germany and Canada. But, contemporary India practises a multilayered diplomacy that addresses the concerns of various constituencies, ranging from the political to the strategic, business to cultural, and the elite to the common people.

Referring to the big picture, Foreign Secretary S. Jaishankar observed that the visit’s overarching theme was to deepen cooperation with key members of the G7, the grouping of the world’s most prosperous democracies. They are “relevant” to India’s development programmes and enjoy “political convergence” with it. With the government having already invested much in advancing India’s neighbourhood and “Act East” policy and the relationships with the United States, Russia and China, it was time to focus on other power centres in today’s multipolar world.


For long, post-War Europe was managed through a close alliance between France and Germany, but of late, the power balance seems to have tilted in Germany’s favour. Yet, the critical synergy between the impulses and interests of France and India remains unchanged. The strategic partnership, established in 1988, has witnessed significant progress. The importance France attaches to its relations with India was reflected in President Francois Hollande’s visit in 2013 and the visit of Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius in mid-2014. Modi’s visit helped showcase and strengthen the multifaceted partnership.

This visit resulted in the signing of 20 memorandums of understanding (MoUs) and agreements. Two issues that had become quite intractable were tackled head-on and resolved, at least partially. For years, the two sides strove to find a way to finalise the deal for the Medium Multi-Role Combat Aircraft (MMRCA). Agreement on pricing and indigenisation of the aircraft’s production in India had proved elusive. Against this backdrop, an understanding was reached at the government level for the purchase of 36 Rafale fighter planes in “a fly-away condition as quickly as possible”. This arrangement has apparently been made on “better terms” than were offered before. New Delhi has faced some flak for compromising on its “Make in India” policy, but defence experts have justified the agreement as being essential to meet the urgent needs of the Indian Air Force.

The second issue concerns the setting up of four nuclear power reactors in Jaitapur, Maharashtra. After years of protracted negotiations following the framework agreement of December 2010, the companies concerned—Nuclear Power Corporation of India Limited and Areva, and Larsen & Toubro and Areva—reached agreements during Modi’s visit, which should pave the way for the project. How much time will be needed to commission the reactors remains unclear.

Paris and New Delhi are close partners in the battle against terrorism. In the light of the terrorist attacks on the French weekly Charlie Hebdo in January 2015 and the release, in Pakistan, of the mastermind of the 2008 Mumbai terror attacks, the two governments articulated their identical approach to counterterrorism.

In a 42-paragaph joint statement, the two governments “reaffirmed” their commitment to the strategic partnership and announced their intention to “consult and support each other”. They spoke of “their independence and strategic autonomy” and stressed that they were committed to continuing their joint efforts to tackle “global challenges”. France voiced its support for India’s candidature for a permanent membership of the United Nations Security Council “without further delay”. They also agreed to commence bilateral dialogue to develop “ways and means of their cooperation in the maritime domain”, especially in the Indian Ocean region. Significantly, India has welcomed “closer engagement” of France in the affairs of the Indian Ocean Rim Association. The document also spells out the governments’ plans to deepen mutual cooperation in diverse areas: climate change, smart cities, security, space, nuclear energy, the economy, people-to-people contacts, heritage and culture, education, science and technology, sports and health. France would provide a credit line of €1 billion over the next three years for sustainable infrastructure and urban development projects. Agreement was also reached on working together to upgrade the Delhi-Chandigarh railway line to a 200 kmph line and to redevelop Ambala and Ludhiana railway stations.


At several public appearances and interactions with German business and industry, Modi made a powerful pitch for India as an ideal investment destination. Stressing that there was a natural fit between Germany’s capabilities and India’s needs and expectations, he repeatedly plugged for “a strong partnership between the king of the earth, the lion, and the king of the skies, the eagle”.

India and Germany have been bound together by a strategic partnership since 2001. Heads of state/government have exchanged visits regularly, the last visit being of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh to Germany in 2013 and of German President Joachim Gauck to India in 2014. Germany is India’s largest trading partner in Europe and the second most important partner in terms of technological collaborations. Bilateral trade was worth over €16 billion in 2013. As an important development cooperation partner and as a country with a long tradition of cultural and academic exchanges, Germany has consistently shown high interest in nurturing its relations with India.

Modi’s visit to Germany concluded with a joint statement, issued in the name of “the Prime Minister of India and the Federal Chancellor of Germany”. They spoke of a common objective to encourage “synergies” between German expertise and new opportunities available in India. “Our strategic partnership is entering a new and more intensive phase,” they noted and agreed on a 10-point list of collaborations in specified areas. Further, they committed themselves to renew their efforts to hold negotiations for “an ambitious” free trade agreement between India and the European Union (E.U.). The two governments would now prepare for the third round of intergovernmental consultations, due to take place during Chancellor Angela Merkel’s visit in October.


The decision to add Canada to the Prime Minister’s itinerary, which in the normal course would have instead included London and Brussels, was innovative. It reflected Modi’s expanding world view. Significantly, he portrayed Canada as “a major Asia-Pacific power” and depicted India-Canada relations as “a natural partnership of shared values”, “an economic partnership of immense mutual benefit”, and “a strategic partnership” that should address “global challenges”. Prime Minister Stephen Harper conveyed, through special gestures such as his decision to travel on Modi’s special aircraft to Toronto and Vancouver, that Canada accorded high importance to its ties with India and to the growing clout of the 1.2-million-strong Indian community in Canada. A senior Canadian diplomat in New Delhi to whom this author spoke referred to Modi’s “rock star status” in North America, stressing that Canada had to wait for 42 years for a stand-alone visit by an Indian Prime Minister.

The visit’s immediate achievements included the signing of the agreement on long-term supply of uranium to India and 13 agreements on skill development. There are indications that the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement may be signed by September. The failure to sign a bilateral investment promotion and protection agreement, however, was “a marked disappointment”. Writing in The Globe and Mail, David Malone, a former Canadian High Commissioner to India, advised Canada to play “the long game” in order “to court India”. He noted: “Canadian capital could help new India’s economic expansion.” Canadians were urged to engage more meaningfully with India.

Glaring omission

A glaring omission in Modi’s Europe tour was the absence of interaction with the E.U. leadership. The fault seems to lie with Brussels, which failed to accommodate New Delhi on the proposed dates. Even so, South Block could have fitted in at least a brief, symbolic visit to the European Parliament or the E.U. Commission to show its respect for the 28-nation grouping. The E.U. may be inward-looking at present, but its significance for India cannot be ignored. Joao Cravinho, E.U. envoy in Delhi, stated that the E.U. could be the biggest source of advanced technology to India and the No. 1 platform to get the country integrated into the global economic chain. Both sides now need to work earnestly to organise the next, much-delayed India-E.U. summit soon.

Modi’s visit has been rich in the haul of agreements signed, understandings reached, diverse constituencies touched, and personal equations made. The image of India as a nation heading towards a positive transformation has been given a big boost. Let us ensure that there is no disconnect between image and reality in the future.

Rajiv Bhatia is director general of the Indian Council of World Affairs. The views expressed here are personal.

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