Narendra Modi is one of the most admired as well as the most detested leaders, the most successful politician among non resident Indians and, without any doubt, the most talked about Indian prime minister since Indira Gandhi. The French are, therefore, expecting his first official visit to the country with some measure of excitement and curiosity.

Modi's economic ambitions, the opening up of foreign direct investment to new sectors, his emphasis on infrastructure and energy, the budget allocated to defence acquisitions, the 100 smart cities project and other such policies fascinate the French who see opportunities for new commercial contracts, in addition to the much awaited – and stalled – Rafale deal, particularly in the field of nuclear energy, water and waste management and military equipment.

The schedule of the visit says it all: soon after meeting with French president François Hollande, Modi will meet two delegations of French business leaders in the infrastructure and defence sectors. He will also go to Toulouse, where he will visit the headquarters of Airbus, which is hoping to sell helicopters, mid-air refuellers and radar technology to India.

Lure of the market

Although Hollande claims that he does not want to make Modi's visit to be only about the signing of contracts, Paris obviously wants – and needs – a share of the Indian market for economic, strategic and political reasons. It would also, it is hoped, translate into jobs and hence into a bump in Hollande's very low approval ratings, two years before the next presidential election in May 2017.

France also hopes that through a possible collaboration in the Indian Ocean region coastal surveillance radar system,  it could become part of a strategic alliance led by India and supported by the USA to counter-balance the Chinese influence in the region. India, as the third largest emitter of carbon dioxide in the world, is also expected to play an important role in the United Nations climate change conference to be held in Paris in December 2015. Hollande is hoping that this conference will be the highlight of his five year presidency.

For all these reasons, diplomats and entrepreneurs in Paris are eagerly waiting for their Indian guest. They are flattered that his 9-day tour of Europe and Canada begins with Paris, an acknowledgement of France's key industrial assets and, possibly also a reward for de-hyphenating of India from Pakistan and having constantly provided military support.

But the schedule of Modi's tour also points to the by-passing of Brussels, a sign that India will favour bilateral relationships over the supranational level of the European Union. The fact that the EU had for almost 10 years imposed a travel ban on Narendra Modi, because of the anti-Muslim pogroms that happened under his watch in 2002 in Gujarat, is certainly not unrelated to Modi's absence this week in Brussels.

Ignoring Hindutva

Actually, Hindutva is one aspect of Narendra Modi's politics that the French officials, and even the French commentators, are eager to ignore.

Most French journalists covering India in the past few days have enumerated the business opportunities that India represents and are largely fascinated by India's rising power. They point to Modi's charisma and the support he enjoys in the business communities in and outside India while totally ignoring the voices of dissent within India, the plight of minorities and the very strong reservations one can have about land grabs in the name of development, for example.

These journalists are not suffering from any kind of Modi-mania though, because their fascination goes beyond the man himself and is really about the size and the purchasing power of the country he represents. They could be said to be suffering from a China syndrome instead, focussed as they are on the economic and strategic success stories while ignoring the political and social issues.

Making it big

A couple of weeks ago, Sourav Choudhury, who started the website www.indiansinfrance in 2007, and is one of the administrators of a Facebook group named "Indians in Paris/France", posted a message to almost 10 000 group members. He urged them to participate in a diaspora get-together organised in honour of Modi by the Indian embassy in Paris and wrote: "We are going to make it big. Let's show that France is not less [than] US and Australia. Are you excited ?!!!"

India is always mentioned in France as the largest democracy in the world, the most promising commercial and strategic partner for France, the most awaited developing nation on the subject of climate change and, sometimes in the same breath, as the most dangerous country for women.

Modi has emerged as a popular leader in India, while India is emerging as a power to reckon with. Who wouldn't be excited? Let us only hope that India will not be reduced to budgets and commercial deals on the one end, and sensationalist rape stories on the other.