What explains India’s tacit support of France’s controversial cartoon policy?

The Indian Ministry of External Affairs released a statement of solidarity with French President Emmanuel Macron late last month after millions of Muslims made verbal attacks against him in response to his government’s official support of blasphemous cartoons depicting the Prophet Muhammad (PBUH). Prior to this, India’s majority-Hindu society rallied behind that Western European country’s provocative policy on social media, which together shows tacit Indian support for such extreme expressions of so-called “freedom of speech”.

The Indian state and its majoritarian society have several reasons for this stance. New Delhi is close military partners with Paris after the latter recently became a major arms supplier and expressed an interest in working more closely together in the Afro-Asian (“Indian”) Ocean, perhaps with France as the next member of the Quad+ framework. As for Indian society, it’s been enraptured by the explosion of Islamophobic rhetoric after the French schoolteacher attack and believes that it can hide behind the cover of “free speech” to celebrate it.

To be clear, not everyone who supports the extreme secularist policy of publishing blasphemous cartoons of any religious figure is an Islamophobe even though many Muslims might argue otherwise, but every Islamophobe supports committing such anti-Islamic acts under the cover of expressing their so-called “freedom of speech”. In the Indian case, there’s no reason to doubt that their support is just a disguise for promoting the Hindutvadis’ inherently Islamophobic ideology.

As I wrote back in February during the height of the New Delhi protests, “India’s Waging A State-On-Citizen Hybrid War To Build Modi’s Hindu Rashtra” by purposely provoking religious conflict in order to serve as a supposedly plausible pretext for cracking down even more harshly against its huge Muslim minority. After asking “Is A Great Social/Civilisational Reset Upon Us?” following that French terrorist attack and confidently concluding that one definitely seems to be, it appears as though Indians want to signal that they chose a side.

For those who don’t have the time to read that hyperlinked analysis, the gist of it is that there’s a growing acknowledgement across the world that civilisational diversity exists despite whatever liberal ideologues claim about a supposedly universal “global society” (which is usually just a euphemism for imposing their Western-centric views onto non-Western societies). In this context, the Indian state and society want to make it clear that they stand on the side of Western civilisation in the event of a so-called “clash of civilisations”.

About that scenario, it’s far from the inevitable outcome of increased civilisational awareness across the world since different civilisations can still pragmatically cooperate with one another on shared interests such as tourism and trade, but the ruling BJP Hindutvadis would prefer the “clash of civilisations” scenario that they’ve been actively trying to provoke for years already. They believe that growing support of this scenario among Western societies will improve their soft power standing and possibly encourage more foreign investment too.

With France taking the lead among Western countries as the most radically secularist one after what happened, and this position being widely interpreted by supporters and critics alike as Islamophobic (each for their own reasons), India sees a perfect opportunity to improve its comprehensive relations with that Great Power. Reaffirming its open support for France and strongly implying that it approves of the Islamophobic interpretation of events could strengthen their state-to-state and people-to-people partnerships.

Nobody should misinterpret my analysis as an endorsement of this approach since my personal view is that it’s unacceptable to abuse ambiguous political concepts such as the “freedom of speech” for the purpose of offending the sensitivities of any religious believers. Calling out India like I’ve done can hopefully help raise awareness among its Muslim partners across the world such as those in the GCC that the South Asian state is no different than the Western European one or even “Israel” with respect to their Islamophobic policies.