What can France offer India today? And what can it learn from India?

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While what Europeans should learn from India seems obvious: more dynamic innovation as well as the work culture of its middle class, the same middle class – especially in India’s metropolises – does not feel like it has anything to import from Europe!

There’s no need to mention social security and solidarity to Indian decision makers who consider that inequalities (especially when merit-based) are not as negative developments as the Europeans like to portray them. At the most, for many Indians, they are necessary evils that have to be taken for granted during the take off phase of the economy. Most of the trickle down theory is based on this idea that those who have some capital – intellectual, financial – should be free to prosper because, eventually, it will benefit the poor. At some point in time, entrepreneurs will invest in less developed places because labour and land will be less expensive there. Thus, inequalities do not have to be regulated artificially, not only because they play the role of an engine, but also because they will be reduced in the course of time.

If the French, therefore, should not insist in promoting their sense of equality, what they can at least sell – as an idea – is their priority to infrastructures. Indeed, the trickle down theory is flawed by the difficulties the entrepreneurs face when they want to invest in poor areas where there are neither roads, nor proper trains. No development can take place without infrastructure and at least the French State has been successful in establishing railways and in providing electricity as well as water to its citizens. In the last sentence, the key word has been emphasised on purpose. At a time when Indian leaders do not believe too much in the state but, at the most in Public Private Partnership, the French model shows an alternative route that has resulted in the making of public utilities – and the development of global companies which begun their career as state monopolies.

This state-driven development route may look archaic, but it has delivered, not only in concrete (sic) terms but also in social and psychological terms. Indeed, it has gone on a par with the rise of some public space. Citizens enjoying utilities – and free education as well as affordable hospitals – because of the taxes they pay, feel part of the body politic.

In that domain, what France could learn from India is definitely its art of multiculturalism that draws from the brand of secularism enshrined in its Constitution. The French citizens are supposed to be abstract political animals who are not supposed to display their religious belief in some public institutions. Culture is confined to the private space and the migrants are less welcome than they used to be.

Indian secularism, in contrast, recognises cultural diversity to such an extent that religious communities enjoy equal rights according to the Constitution. The personal law of the minorities is even endowed with some official recognition. If they did not suffer from Hindu majoritarianism, this model would be unmatchable!

While both countries have inherited different traditions – or precisely for this reason – they have much to share and Hollande’s visit has been one more opportunity to highlight these complementarities as well as affinities. It has also given some recognition to all those who contribute to these vibrant exchanges for years. Beyond diplomats and businessmen, the Alliance Françaises, the research centers (IFP in Pondicherry and the CSH in Delhi) and educational institutions (Sciences Po as well as its Indian partners, including JNU, the CSDS and the Young Indian Fellowships Programme) are cases in point.

(The views expressed in this article are the author’s own)

1 COMMENT

  1. Very diplomatic. Love the approach, very low key and modest, revealing an understanding of the new realities of India. However, European masses still do believe in racial and cultural superiority and a French translation of this will not go down so well in a French newspaper! And then there is Arcelor…I am actually surprised Mr. Hollande deigned to visit India. Business is business I suppose and thats good for both India and France.

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