India – France ties strengthen as Macron attends Republic Day celebrations

The current visit is emblematic of the strategic alliance that has been carefully cultivated over the years.

French President Emmanuel Macron is set to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations as the chief guest, underlining the ongoing negotiations for substantial defence deals between the two nations. Despite the anticipation, officials have tempered expectations, suggesting that the visit is more ceremonial than yielding immediate outcomes.

France, serving as India’s second-largest arms supplier, has maintained a robust partnership with New Delhi for decades. Notably, it stood out as the only Western nation that refrained from imposing sanctions on India following its nuclear tests in 1998. The current visit is emblematic of the strategic alliance that has been carefully cultivated over the years.

The focus of the negotiations revolves around multi-billion dollar agreements, including the purchase of French fighter jets and submarines for the Indian military. Earlier, India had given initial approval for the acquisition of 26 Rafale jets and the joint production of three Scorpene class submarines, signalling a potential investment of around 800 billion rupees ($9.62 billion). However, these deals are yet to be finalized, indicating that the visit might not yield immediate breakthroughs.

France, eager to broaden collaboration beyond defence, is also eyeing enhanced cooperation in space and nuclear sectors. While this visit is seen as an opportunity to solidify the longstanding partnership, French presidential advisers have indicated that no new defence contracts are expected to be announced during Macron’s stay.

India, having relied on French fighter jets for four decades, has a history of defence acquisitions from France. The Mirage jets purchased in the 1980s still constitute a significant portion of the Indian Air Force. The current negotiations further strengthen the defence ties between the two nations.

This visit marks the fifth meeting between Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi and President Macron since May, showcasing the regular high-level engagement between the two countries. India had initially hoped to host U.S. President Joe Biden, along with leaders from Australia and Japan for the Republic Day celebrations, aligning with the Quad group of countries. However, the plan fell through due to Biden’s unavailability.

During Macron’s 40-hour state visit, discussions are not limited to defence; business leaders from various sectors, including pharmaceuticals, auto, space, energy, and hydrogen industries, will convene to explore avenues for collaboration. This broader engagement is the comprehensive nature of the India-France relationship beyond defence and strategic interests.

Macron’s presence at India’s Republic Day celebrations reflects the deepening ties between the two nations, with an emphasis on defence cooperation and the potential for broader collaboration across various industries. While no immediate major outcomes are expected, the visit serves as a symbolic affirmation of the enduring partnership between India and France.