NEW DELHI/PARIS: Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi heads to France on Thursday to deepen ties with New Delhi’s oldest strategic partner in the West, with a slew of high-profile defence deals expected and a new joint plan to ensure stability in the Indo-Pacific.
Modi has been invited as the guest of honour at the Bastille Day celebrations by French President Emmanuel Macron. Units from India‘s army, navy and air force will also participate in the parade, including two of the 36 Rafale fighter jets India bought in 2015 for nearly $9 billion.
The visit will “provide an opportunity to chart the course of the partnership for the future across diverse sectors such as strategic, cultural, scientific, academic and economic cooperation,” the Indian government said in a statement on Wednesday.
This year marks 25th anniversary of the strategic partnership between the two countries, and the announcement of the new military deals will burnish the deepening defence ties between the two nations.
France has been one of India’s closest partners in Europe for decades. Paris was the only western capital to not impose sanctions on New Delhi after India conducted nuclear tests in 1998.
Ten years later, when India got Nuclear Suppliers Group waiver for its civil nuclear plans, France was the first country to sign an agreement.
India has relied on French fighter jets for four decades now. Much before buying Dassault Aviation’s Rafale in 2015, India bought Mirage jets in 1980s, which still comprise two squadrons of the air force.
In 2005, India bought six Scorpene-class diesel submarines from France for 188 billion rupees ($2.28 billion) to be built in India by Mazagon Dock Shipbuilders (MDL) in partnership with the French Naval Group, the last of which will be commissioned next year.
The ageing fleet of India’s Russian-made platforms, Moscow’s inability to perform maintenance work, and delays in India’s indigenous manufacturing plans for parallel platforms have necessitated the two new defence deals.
For submarines, India is expected to buy three more Scorpene submarines, which will again be made by MDL and the Naval group, government sources in New Delhi and Paris said. The price of the deals has yet to be agreed.
India is also expected to agree to buy 26 Rafale jets, the sources said, without giving the deal’s expected value.
The marine version of Dassualt’s Rafale jets, intended for India’s first indigenous aircraft carrier commissioned in August 2022, outperformed the American SuperhornetF18s in tests last year for Indian requirements.
During the visit, Macron will host Modi for a private dinner, as well as a state banquet at the Louvre Museum. Modi will also meet other political leaders, selected French personalities and business leaders, and interact with the Indian diaspora.
Both India and France through its island territories have deep interests in the Indian Ocean and are concerned about China’s growing assertiveness in the region. Details of an announcement on a plan for the region are not known.
The visit comes less than a month after President Joe Biden hosted Modi for a state visit, during which the US offered critical military technology including fighter jet engines and high altitude drones to India.
Last week Modi chaired an online meeting of leaders of the Shanghai Cooperation Group members, which included Russian President Vladimir Putin and China’s Xi Jinping.
Macron, Biden, Putin and Xi, along with leaders of the other G20 members countries are expected to visit New Delhi in September for its summit to be hosted by India as its head this year.
The Indian leader will also later visit the UAE and meet President Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, who is also the ruler of Abu Dhabi.
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