India PM Modi honoured for France's Bastille Day in shadow of protests over police killing of teenager

India PM Modi honoured for France's Bastille Day in shadow of protests over police killing of teenager
4 min read
French President Emmanuel Macron awarded Modi the grand cross of the Legion of Honour, the country's top order of merit, two weeks after protests over the police killing of a French teenager spread nationwide.
The honouring of Modi reflects deepening ties between France and India [Umit Donmez/Anadolu via Getty]

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi will be guest of honour for France's Bastille Day celebrations on Friday, which are set to take place under tight security two weeks after protests swept the country.

Around 45,000 police will be deployed nationwide in the evening while firework sales have been banned as the government aims to prevent a repeat of the unrest seen at the end of June, following the police killing of a teenager.

The annual Bastille Day festivities, which mark the storming of the Bastille prison at the start of the French Revolution in 1789, kick off with a traditional military parade in the morning that will see over 5,000 people sweep down the Champs Elysees.

French President Emmanuel Macron on Friday awarded Modi the grand cross of the Legion of Honour, the country's top order of merit.

Live Story

The award was granted to salute "the role of the prime minister in the excellent relations of friendship and confidence that unite France and India", the presidency said in a statement.

The honouring of Modi this year reflects deepening ties between France and India, which are marking 25 years of "strategic partnership".

Modi called Macron his "friend" in a speech to Indians living in France on Thursday evening.

"This closeness is not limited to just the leaders of two countries, it is in fact a reflection of the unwavering friendship between India and France," Modi said.

The Indian defence ministry on Thursday announced its intention to procure another 26 French-made Rafale fighter jets as well as three more Scorpene-class submarines in a deal expected to be worth billions of euros.

Despite differences over the war in Ukraine and tensions over human rights in India, Western democracies are courting Modi and India as a military and economic counterweight to China.

Macron's red carpet welcome comes weeks after Modi was given the rare honour of a White House state dinner in Washington – a city he was once banned from visiting.

Macron told a meeting of military leaders on Thursday evening that India was "a giant of world history which will have a decisive role for our future".

'Loss of confidence'

Bastille Day is set to be a more sober affair than in previous years following five nights of clashes from 27 June after the fatal police shooting of a teenager in a Paris suburb.

The most intense clashes in nearly two decades saw thousands of cars torched, public property destroyed and more than 3,700 people arrested, many of them minors.

"We're not worried about anything. We're just being careful," the head of the Paris police, Laurent Nunez, told the BFM channel on Thursday.

Some towns have cancelled their traditional firework displays out of fear of violence, and buses and trams are to stop running in the Paris region from 10:00 pm (2000 GMT).

"Can you believe that in the great democracy of France, we are giving up on our national day because of the fear generated by potential violence or potential riots by some people?" far-right opposition leader Marine Le Pen said on Wednesday.

She called the government measures "an admission of a total loss of confidence in the state".

The main Paris fireworks display is set to go ahead and will be watched by Macron and Modi after they attend a banquet with 200 guests at the Louvre Museum.

Hindu nationalism

Amid the diplomatic courting of Modi, a resolution from the European Parliament on Thursday served as a reminder that he and his Hindu nationalist agenda have garnered critics at home and abroad.

EU parliamentarians approved a motion urging India to end violence in northeastern Manipur state and to protect minorities there.

Clashes between the majority Meitei, who are mostly Hindus, and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe have left at least 120 people dead, 50,000 displaced and more than 1,700 houses destroyed, the parliament said.

Live Story

It criticised the "nationalistic rhetoric" of the local state government, run by Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Honouring Modi at Bastille Day was "an affront not only to India's minority communities, journalists and human rights defenders, but also to India as a democracy", the text's chief negotiator, Pierre Larrouturou, said afterwards.

Leading French academic and Indian specialist Christophe Jaffrelot said Modi was "in the process of deconstructing India's democratic institutions" in an article published this week.

The Indian leader lauded his country's economic performance under his stewardship in a speech to thousands of Indians living in France on Thursday evening and stressed the country's growing clout in global affairs.

"India is the mother of democracy and India is the model of diversity. This is a great strength of ours," he added.