There is much enthusiasm in New Delhi to see French troops march down Rajpath along with Indian contingent on the country's 67th Republic Day when President Francois Hollande will be the chief guest on the occasion. This will be the first time that a contingent from a foreign country would be participating in the march past on the day the country adopted the Constitution in 1950.
It is mostly likely that the French contingent comprising 56 personnel of 35th Infantry Regiment of 7th Armoured Brigade, which had taken part in the Afghan war and is participating the 8-day counter-terrorism joint exercise known as Shakti 2016 in Rajasthan, will be participating in the historic R-Day parade. Some soldiers are also likely to fly down from Paris to join their brethren in forming a full contingent for the parade.
France had given a similar honour to India on its Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, 2009. Indian troops drawn from the three services - Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force - marched down the Champs Elysees in Paris along with the French Army on the annual event also known as French National Day celebrated to commemorate the Storming of the Bastille on the morning of July 14, 1789. The Maratha light infantry, which is one of the oldest regiments of Indian Army participated on the occasion.
Francois Hollande will be the fourth French President and fifth French leader to be the chief guest on India's R-Day Earlier in 1980 President Valery Giscard d'Estaing was the chief guest on R-Day followed by President Jacques Chirac in 1998 and President Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008. Jacques Chirac was invited as the chief guest in 1976 when he was the Prime Minister.
President Hollande is expected to arrive early and land at Chandigarh, the city built by a French architect and the first modern city built after India's Independence. He is slated to have a view of the city. Prime Minister Modi is likely to seek French assistance for building smart cities in India.
It is not just reciprocating the honour the French had extended to the Indian Armed Forces on the Bastille Day, but also to demonstrate that the two nations united in fight against terrorism. Like India, France had been the victim of intermittent acts of religious fundamentalism and terror. Just to list a few major ones were the Charlie Hebdo attack in January 7, 2015 and the Paris massacre in November 2015 just before the climate change conference was to take place. France with its enshrined principles of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality stands on the same footing with a vibrant secular democracy like India.
After the Charlie Hebdo attack 40 world leaders gathered in Paris to offer their sympathy to the cause and pledged their determination to fight terrorism. India which had missed the bus thought of inviting President Hollande and the French contingent to participate in the historic R-Day celebrations. It is likely the discussions on counter-terrorism and security will be top on the agenda.
Prime Minister Narendrabhai Damodardass Modi in his last visit to France in April last year has already laid the foundation for talks on counter-terrorism and security, apart from trade and investment.
In his last visit Prime Minister Modi urged France to enhance its cooperation in the maritime domain, particularly in the Indian Ocean region. New Delhi intends to work closely with France in realising the objectives enshrined in the Charter of Indian Ocean Rim Association in which Paris enjoys Observer status. Prime Minister Modi and President Francois Hollande had stressed the importance of joint military exercises between their armies, navies and air forces. French Carrier Battle group will participate in the joint naval exercise, Varuna, in the Indian Ocean in the coming weeks.
Following Prime Minister Modi's Paris visit 14th edition of India-France naval exercise -Varuna was conducted off Goa coast from April 23 to May 2, 2015, which had both a harbour and sea phase exercise. The French Navy was represented by aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, two destroyers Chevalier Paul and Jean de Vienne, replenishment tanker Meuse and a maritime patrol aircraft Atlantique-2. The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle was carrying its complement of fighter aircraft Rafale M, Strike Aircraft Super Etendard, E2C Hawkeye AWACS and helicopters Dauphin and Alouette 3. On Indian side aircraft carrier INS Viraat, destroyer INS Mumbai, stealth frigate INS Tarkash, guided missile frigate INS Gomati, replenishment tanker INS Deepak, submarine INS Shankul and a few fast attack craft along with P-8 I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance and Seaking 42B and Chetak helicopters, participated.
The most important deal struck during Prime Minister Modi's Paris visit in matters of security was to pave the way for acquiring 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition for the Indian Air Force. Prime Minister Modi and President Hollande agreed to ease the process through an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) that will be on terms better than those offered by Dassault Aviation in the course of over three years of negotiations. It was agreed that the Rafale jets would be delivered "in time-frame that would be compatible with the operational requirement of IAF and that the aircraft and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by IAF and with a longer maintenance responsibility by France."
According to India's Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2013, purchases under IGA need not follow the standard procurement procedure and standard contract document but can be based on mutually agreed provisions. It now depends upon how the IGA would be worked out and the terms to be stipulated relating to pricing, delivery schedule, training and maintenance. So far Modi has sought to address the urgent needs of the Indian Air Force by seeking to cut the delay and hoping for better terms. His much touted concept of 'Make in India' and technology transfer are not addressed in this agreement. But the eagerness to purchase 36 Rafale jets right away is a bold step keeping in view the low allocation for capital expenditure in the current year's Defence Budget which is not sufficient for mega deals in pipeline like tanker aircraft deal with Airbus, two helicopter contracts with Boeing and Rafale fighter deal. Modi did visit the Airbus Facility at Toulouse when he was in France.
To fill the low level radar gaps along the border, new Low Level Transportable Radars (LLTRs) are being inducted in IAF from M/s Thales, France with transfer of technology. M/s BEL will produce few of these state of the art radars in India. These radars are mobile and can be deployed anywhere as per operational requirements.
Another major takeaway from Modi's France visit was the agreement between L&T and the French company AREVA for reducing the cost of Jaitapur nuclear power project by increasing localization in the spirit of 'Make in India', transfer of technology and development of indigenous nuclear energy industry in India. An agreement was signed between NPCIL and AREVA for early conclusion of
techno-commercial study for construction of six 1650 Mwe nuclear power plants so that all parties - AREVA, Alstom and NPCIL - can firm up their price and optimize all provisions for risks.
France has supported India's membership to four multilateral export control regimes and has assured India of intensifying their cooperation in space technology.
Prime Minister Modi got assurances of cooperation for his pet projects - modernization of railways, including semi-high speed trains, renewable energy projects, smart cities, heritage cities, skill development, Ganga cleaning among others.
France, which is a victim of terrorism, is likely to ally with India in counter-terrorism and security. Hope President Hollande's visit will strengthen this bond.
Ashok B Sharma is a senior Columnist writing on strategic and policy issues in several Indian and international dailies and magazines.
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