French troops’ parade on R-Day: Are India’s non-alignment days finally over?

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Ever since he came to power, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has made the Republic Day celebrations unique in some way. While he invited US President Barack Obama as the chief guest in 2015, the first time ever in the history; this year a group of French soldiers paraded on the occasion-again as a first-ever by foreign troops in India's history.

French President Francois Hollande was the chief guest at this year's Republic Day programme.

The contingent of French Army marching past during the 67th Republic Day parade at Rajpath in New Delhi.

Modi's foreign policy has been a marked departure from what New Delhi has followed traditionally. His government has not only taken up the baton from where his predecessor Manmohan Singh had left in 2014; in some ways the NDA has even pursued the foreign policy in directions that were once considered beyond feasibility.

Modi's R-Day foreign policy

The growing maturity in India's foreign policy has been applauded at many quarters and rightly so. The Congress's refusal to come out from its ideological confinement has cost India in the realm of foreign policy on various counts and Modi aptly materialised the foreign policy ambitions that Singh had harboured personally but remained unsuccessful to pursue because of his own party.

Modi even did what former prime minister PV Narasimha Rao, who had laid the foundation of the new age in India's foreign policy, couldn't succeed in, i.e., inviting an American president to the Republic Day celebrations to acknowledge the new realities in today's international relations and the transition in New Delhi's world outlook.

[From the archives: Modi's R-Day invitation to Obama will keep even India's traditional allies guessing]

Inviting Obama was a master stroke; is French troops' parade also?

But if inviting Obama in last year's R-Day celebration was a major benchmark in India's foreign policy (strategically, economically and ideologically), seeing the French troops parading on the Rajpath this R-Day could mean a further watershed and that is scrapping the ideal of non-alignment permanently.

It is true that France is one of those western countries with who India shared a cordial relation even at the heights of the Cold War and received backing from during the 1971 war with Pakistan and following the nuclear tests of 1998 when many western nations had imposed sanctions on the latter.

But the fact that French troops paraded in India at the Republic Day function could be an alarming message to dreaded outfits like the Islamic State (IS) with which France is "at war" after the terror attack in Paris in November last year.

Supporting France's war: More challenges?

India had said after the attack that killed 129 people that it supported France's war and now with French troops joining the party on a day when India flexes its arms of nationalism, there is every chance of New Delhi's integration with the mainstream battle between the terror and anti-terror sides across the globe.

[Modi's R-Day invitation to Obama will keep even India's traditional allies guessing]

There is every chance of India's security establishment facing more challenges after this, a possibility with which the Modi Administration would not find comfortable to cope with.

Non-alignment is definitely not a valid currency in today's transactions in international politics but drawing a balance to serve the national security interest is not an unwise decision to make.

India might have just got rid of the remaining vestiges of non-alignment perhaps in an over-enthusiasm to reach out to the west for other advantages.

But is it a foolproof move?

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