The Indian press and media, especially the Government-owned part, exulted about Dr Manmohan Singh’s presence at France’s Bastille Day parade this year. And of course it was generally a splendid occasion and there were things that the organisers of Indian military parades could have and should have learnt from it. But there were two sources of disquietude.
Did anyone but myself notice that Dr Manmohan Singh had been placed on the left hand side of the French President? Is that the place of a Guest of Honour?
Who was on the right hand side? Germany’s President Horset Köhler. Why? Some French reports said Dr Singh was the Guest of Honour; others said both were. Either way diplomatic protocol should have placed Dr Singh to the right of President Sarkozy. If President Köhler too was an equivalent Guest of Honour through some last minute diplomatic mishap, he should have been to the right of Dr Singh.
France slighted India by placing Dr Singh to the left of President Sarkozy and still calling him the Guest of Honour. (And why Dr Singh was invited was clearly not because of any new great power status for India but firstly to reciprocate the recent invitation to President Sarkozy last 26 January, and secondly, to gain advantage in business deals with India.)
Secondly, what business did a French paratrooper have to parachute out of an aircraft holding India’s tricolour and then, upon landing, drag it momentarily on the ground? What business did two French paratroopers have to be holding the Indian tricolour in a salute to the French President?
Again, France has slighted India.
I love Paris and I am generally Francophilic — except for such instances of Napoleonic self-aggrandisement.
Postscript July 15: Where her husband did not, Mme Sarkozy did get the protocol right, placing Mme Singh to her immediate right and Mme Köhler to Mme Singh’s right.
July 15, 2009 at 7:02 am
You make an interesting point on diplomatic protocol and I have to say I am not surprised that Germany was favoured over India.
The whole French foreign affairs’ policy is and has been a mess for the past many years, whose main motivations are European Unity (whatever this means) and selling as much weaponry or gaining other large contracts benefitting large French multinationals.
It is a mess in the sense that France or the French people as a whole have little or nothing to gain from it, on the other hand the French elites do gain a lot from it along with their European counterparts.
The Franco-German relationship is a cornerstone of the French foreign policy since 1963 and has been considereably bolstered since 2003 by the addition of binational institutions.
Yet it is now fair to say that it does not serve French interests anymore and that since the German reunification the Germans have been the main beneficiaries.
The main argument invoked to defend this relationship is that France is “too small” nowadays to fend for herself or that this relationship is needed to “build Europe”.
However as much as economic statism does not serve France’s best interests in the long run, it is also worth wondering whether the European project serves France’s best interests as well in the long run.
Moreover in this day and age it would seems much more logical for France to look out for the rest of the world, rather than Germany and Europe which does not make any sense now that the USSR is gone.
But alas like many things in French politics there is little or no debate on these things in France and too little people willing to change things, chiefly because the whole French establishment would lose too much power and influence should changes happen.
Not that I am advocating a second storming of the Bastille, but sometimes I wonder …