German criticism and the Indian market The Excelsior 20 Apr 2024 Maj Gen Harsha Kakar


German criticism and the Indian market

German criticism and the Indian market The Excelsior 20 Apr 2024

          The German foreign ministry commented adversely on the disqualification of Rahul Gandhi from the Lok Sabha in March last year. Its foreign ministry spokesperson mentioned in Berlin, ‘We have taken note of the verdict of first instance against Indian opposition politician Rahul Gandhi as well as the suspension of his parliamentary mandate.’ He added that Germany expects, ‘standards of judicial independence and fundamental democratic principles” will equally apply to the proceedings against Rahul Gandhi.’

The same was criticized by the Indian government and members of the ruling BJP. It was interference in Indian democracy which was unacceptable. Germany refused to learn despite being chastised.

This year it again decided to display its arrogance on the arrest of Arvind Kejriwal by the Enforcement Directorate. Its Berlin based foreign ministry spokesperson, Sebastian Fischer, mentioned, ‘Mr Kejriwal is entitled to a fair and impartial trial, this includes he can make use of all available legal avenues without restrictions. The presumption of innocence is a central element of the rule of law and must apply to him.’ It was again unwarranted and Delhi was determined to put Berlin in its place.

The Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) summoned the Deputy Head of Mission of the German Embassy, George Enzweiler, to lodge an official protest. Simultaneously, the Indian spokesperson termed it as ‘interfering in our judicial process and undermining the independence of our judiciary.’ Germany, possibly on the advice of its embassy in New Delhi, backtracked.

Its spokesperson subsequently stated, ‘The topic was discussed with the MEA. Let me emphasize once again that we – India and Germany – have a great interest in closer cooperation and together in an atmosphere of trust. He added, ‘The Indian constitution guarantees fundamental human values and freedoms. And we share these democratic values with India as an important partner in Asia.’ It was a 180-degree turn by Germany and not without reason.

The main German concern appears to be losing the growing Delhi-Berlin cooperation in multiple fields, strategic, defence and infrastructure. Berlin did not want India to take any step which could jeopardize these building ties. It also noted that no other European nation had commented, aware of India’s democratic credentials and independent judiciary. Comments only emerged from Washington.

Reports mention that German concern Thyssenkrupp Marine Systems is partnering with Indian Mazagaon Dockyards Limited as one of the last two competing companies for the Project-75 tender to build six new conventional submarines, costing around Rs 42,000 crores or USD 5.3 billion. The Germans are competing against the Spanish firm, Navantia, which is partnering with Larsen and Toubro. The tenders are likely to be finalized post elections in India. An anti-Berlin stance could derail the project.

The German ambassador to India, Philipp Ackerman, stated in an interview, ‘Germany is strongly diversifying its trade relations in Asia. India is on the forefront of this business strategy. That is also why we are seeing such a strong interest of German companies, big ones as well as many start-ups, to invest in India.’ There are reports that Germany would be participating in joint exercises with the Indian air force and navy in coming months, sending a message that it believes Delhi is an essential partner for any nation seeking to operate in the Indo-Pacific.

India is diversifying its defence industry from its traditional ally, Moscow. Added is the Indian push for ‘make in India’ which suits western nations.  Hence when Ackerman mentioned, ‘Germany is ready to supply aircraft, torpedoes and power packs for tanks to India – with substantial localization of production in India,’ the intent was to grab a foothold in India’s defence industry.  

The German defence minister, Boris Pistorius, visited India in Jun last year accompanied by representatives of Germany’s defence industries, hoping for breaking into the Indian market. The last major defence deal between the two nations was inked in 1981 for four HDW Type 209 Submarines. Berlin had offered military equipment including transfer of technology on multiple occasions but few went through. 

Germany is also aware of opportunities in India beyond defence. It is seeking to enter into infrastructure and railways. As Ackerman stated last year in March, ‘Deutsche Bahn, the German railway company, is now managing a train from Meerut to Delhi.’ Gurdip Singh, a former diplomat, writes in the Observer Research Foundation, ‘Germany is India’s largest trading partner in Europe and a significant investor as well as recipient of FDI by Indian companies.’ Unthoughtful comments can impact its interests.

Germany realized that India dislikes criticism of its democratic credentials, independent institutions and well considered decisions. It will respond. Other nations from whom India procures defence equipment, including France and Russia, avoid passing undue remarks attempting to display their western superiority. The German ambassador avoided discussing comments made by his foreign ministry spokesperson, hoping to let the matter die.  

PM Modi in his interview with Newsweek last week, listed the importance of India to the west, ‘Apart from producing for the world, the vast Indian domestic market is an added attraction. India is a perfect destination for those who want to set up trusted and resilient supply chains.’ A strategic defence partnership with India is also of importance to Germany as approximately 25% of its trade flows through the Indo-Pacific.  

Germany, on its part, is facing a Nicaragua sponsored complaint in the International Court of Justice for ‘facilitating the commission of genocide’ against Palestinians. It has been accused of supplying weapons to Israel and stopping funding of the UN agency for Palestinian refugees on Israel’s request. The German foreign minister, discarded calls for a ceasefire in Gaza, stating, ‘It is not the job of politicians to tell the guns to shut up.’ India could have commented on Germany’s predicament and approach, but avoided.

What actually transpired in the MEA when the German envoy was summoned, post their comments on Kejriwal’s arrest, will remain unknown. However sudden reversal by Germany implies that the Indian message was powerful. It could have possibly been that India mentioned it does not trust those who comment on its internal matters, a hint which Germany comprehended. India has the clout to compel nations to change their views and it has proved it.