French President Emmanuel Macron will be guest of honor during India’s Republic Day celebrations on January 26. The two countries share defense ties, and French-built Rafale fighter aircraft will feature at the parade. Those same planes, now part of the Indian air force, also featured in a flyby during France’s Bastille Day parade in 2023, when Prime Minister Narendra Modi was guest of honor.
But while inviting each other to national military parades, neither leader has called for the protection of human rights, focusing instead on trade and strategic ties.
Macron’s record on human rights in France is open to criticism, especially at a time when a highly problematic migration bill is nearing adoption. But his own record is no excuse to ignore the terrifying repression of religious minorities, independent media, political opponents and human rights organizations currently taking place in India.
Amid growing populist rhetoric and misinformation, responsible and accountable leadership on human rights issues in India is desperately needed. Modi has actively promoted India’s role in global affairs as the world’s largest democracy, but a key pillar of democracy is accountability, and Modi has disregarded legitimate criticism of his repressive policies. Macron, who wants to secure a fruitful partnership with India, should ensure that any deal does not further imperil the rights of the Indian people.
The European Parliament recently adopted a resolution on India that condemns “acts of violence, increasing nationalistic rhetoric, and divisive policies” under the Modi administration. It strongly opposes “hate speech that incites discrimination or violence against any religious minority, such as Muslims and Christians,” and expresses serious concerns about unjust laws like the Citizenship Amendment Act. It also urges India “to release all political prisoners,” end blanket restrictions on internet access, and protect civil society from harmful effects of laws such as the Foreign Contribution Regulation Act and the Unlawful Activities (Prevention) Act.
Unless India’s allies and strategic partners such as France make clear to Modi’s government that its crackdown on rights will have consequences for India’s bilateral relations and place on the world stage, repression and authoritarianism will only grow in India.
Both Macron and Modi should act to ensure that democracy and human rights are the foundation stones upon which this burgeoning relationship is built.