On Friday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi was bestowed with a remarkable honor during his visit to France, as he was welcomed as the guest of honor at the Bastille Day military parade. This visit further solidified significant defense agreements between the two nations. President Emmanuel Macron was with Modi as he observed the march of Indian and French soldiers through Paris’ beautiful Champs-Elysees boulevard. Additionally, the Indian Air Force’s fleet of Rafale fighter jets, procured from France in 2015, participated in a captivating fly-past above the iconic Arc de Triomphe.
During these national festivities, Macron faced a challenging moment as he encountered some public disapproval, evident through boos from certain individuals as he traversed the Champs-Elysees in a military vehicle. This incident coincides with Macron’s declining popularity ratings, primarily influenced by his controversial decision to raise the retirement age, which triggered extensive protests earlier this year.
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Modi embarked on a two-day visit to Paris, commencing on Thursday, during which he was bestowed with France’s highest distinction, the Legion of Honour, recognizing his exceptional contributions. In a late Thursday speech, Macron emphasized that India holds a significant place in world history and will continue to play a decisive role in shaping our future. He further expressed that India is not only a strategic partner but also a cherished friend to France.
Following initial approval from New Delhi, India has taken a significant step in strengthening its defense ties with Paris by agreeing to acquire an additional 26 Rafale jets for its navy, alongside three Scorpene class submarines. This move aligns with the shared objective of both nations to forge alliances in the Indo-Pacific region.
While the exact value of these procurements is yet to be finalized, a reliable source has indicated an estimated total of around 800 billion rupees ($9.75 billion), which will be subject to negotiation.
For several decades, France has been a steadfast partner of India in Europe, demonstrating a close bond between the two countries. Notably, during India’s nuclear tests in 1998, France stood apart as the sole Western nation that refrained from imposing sanctions on New Delhi.
India’s reliance on French fighter jets spans over four decades, with the Mirage jets, acquired in the 1980s, still constituting two squadrons within the Indian Air Force. The induction of Dassault Aviation’s Rafale aircraft further reinforces this long-standing association.
The recent defense agreements stem from multiple factors, including the aging fleet of Russian-made planes in India, complications in Moscow’s ability to perform maintenance work, and delays in India’s domestic manufacturing plans. These circumstances have necessitated the pursuit of these new defense deals.
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Modi will be greeted by Macron at the Elysee Palace later today. There, they will speak before attending a state supper held at the renowned Louvre Museum.
However, human rights organizations have voiced criticism of Modi’s visit, expressing concerns about the perceived increase in authoritarianism within his Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party and allegations of discrimination against minority groups.
Taking to Twitter, the French Ligue des Droits de l’Homme (LDH) rights group stated, “Today, Emmanuel Macron extends a warm welcome to Narendra Modi. The LDH, troubled by India’s shift towards authoritarianism, denounces this invitation as it sends a detrimental message that contradicts our democratic values.”
For France, the strategic partnership with India holds immense significance, particularly as it aims to strengthen its alliance network within the Indo-Pacific region. This objective gains added importance following Australia’s decision to cancel a major submarine contract with France and instead form the AUKUS alliance with Britain and the United States.
Both India and France, through their respective island territories, hold significant interests in the Indian Ocean and share concerns regarding China’s escalating assertiveness in the region.
Macron has selectively extended invitations for the Bastille Day military parade, reserving the honor for only a handful of global leaders. In 2017, he invited Donald Trump, who, captivated by the French spectacle, instructed Pentagon officials to explore the possibility of organizing a similar parade in celebration of American troops.
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