India to strengthen ties with France with Macron as chief guest on national day

India to strengthen ties with France with Macron as chief guest on national day

NEW DELHI (Reuters): French President Emmanuel Macron will attend India’s Republic Day celebrations on Friday as the chief guest, as New Delhi and Paris continue to negotiate multi-billion dollar deals to buy French fighter jets and submarines for the Indian military.

However, officials in New Delhi and Paris said the visit will be more ceremonial than substantial, and no major outcomes are expected.

France is India’s second largest arms supplier, and has been one of its oldest and closest partners in Europe for decades. It was the only Western nation that did not impose sanctions on New Delhi after India conducted nuclear tests in 1998.

Ahead of Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit for Bastille Day celebrations in July, the Indian government had given an initial approval to buy 26 Rafale jets and jointly produce three Scorpene class submarines worth around 800 billion rupees ($9.62 billion).

But the deals are yet to be finalised. France is also keen to enhance cooperation in space and nuclear sectors.

For France, this visit is an opportunity to cement the strategic partnership Paris has forged with New Delhi over the past decades, but no new contract in the defence sector is expected, French presidential advisers told journalists ahead of the visit.

India has relied on French fighter jets for four decades now. Much before buying Dassault Aviation’s Rafale, India bought Mirage jets in the 1980s and those still comprise two squadrons of the air force.

This would be the fifth meeting between Modi and Macron since May.

India had earlier hoped to have US President Joe Biden as well as Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Japanese Prime Minister Fumio Kishida to be the ceremony’s chief guests. The three nations along with India form part of the Quad group of countries, and New Delhi had planned to hold a Quad summit this week.

That plan fell through because Biden was unavailable.

During his 40-hour state visit Macron will also meet business leaders from pharmaceutical, auto, space, energy and hydrogen industries, according to officials in New Delhi and Paris.