German Chancellor Angela Merkel’s announcement of a shift in her government’s Asia policy towards New Delhi — ahead of the just concluded state visit — should set the tone for the future of bilateral ties, already underpinned by the 2006 strategic partnership. The high-powered business delegation that accompanied Ms Merkel, representing the country’s defence, education, and transport sectors, had an eye on India’s expanding defence procurement market and growing infrastructure investment needs. The mobile science exhibition flagged off on Tuesday is a symbolic statement to ordinary Indians on Germany’s technological prowess. But the European Union’s biggest economy and world’s largest exporter would like to see its share of Asia’s gigantic market increase from the current meagre one per cent. Berlin’s leadership sees good reason for optimism on this account, given the impressive growth in Indo-German trade, which has risen at an annual average of about 20 per cent since the economic reforms of 1991; the figure doubled last year. Moreover, India had registered a surplus for a number of years during that period. Germany, along with the other EU states, has been negotiating a reduction in import tariffs as intermediate goods account for a large proportion of India’s trade. Mutual differences persist, however, on climate change. But Germany, as a member of the nuclear suppliers’ group, has thrown its weight behind India’s bid to enter the nuclear safeguards regime, pending the conclusion of its agreement with the United States.
The motives underlying Germany’s new found India policy are evidently economic. But Berlin is equally keen to build on the common strengths of democratic institutions, rule of law, and pluralism. There is already considerable mutual appreciation of the present-day imperatives of consensual politics — a process that is facilitated by parliamentary exchanges. The grand coalition, Germany’s ruling dispensation headed by Ms Merkel since 2005, is a classic example of traditional rivals, Social Democrats and the Christian Democratic Union, steering a mighty industrial power of post-World War II vintage into 21st century globalisation. An Indian parallel is the United Progressive Alliance government of Manmohan Singh, which is an instance of the parties of the political centre and the mainstream left finding common cause to address the country’s challenges by leveraging its strengths on the international market. Together, the German and Indian models could well provide an answer to the blurring of the conventional political divide in many countries and the challenge from forces of the far-right, which as yet remain on the fringes.