As planning gets underway for Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s State visit to France in July, hopes are rising in Paris for a “big ticket” deal that would further strengthen relations between the two countries. While Mr. Modi’s visit has not yet been publicly announced, The Hindu had reported that he has been invited by French President Emmanuelle Macron to be the chief guest for the July 14 national day parade. The visit is expected to discuss agreements in a number of fields including trade, defence climate change, energy.
The two leaders, who will meet twice this year, including in September when Mr. Macron attends the G-20 summit in Delhi, are also expected to try and break the “logjam” in the deal for six nuclear power reactors for India’s Jaitapur project, which is still stuck over pricing and liability issues.
In addition, officials said the two sides would continue to discuss “convergences” in their policies towards issues like the Ukraine war and Indo-Pacific strategy vis-à-vis China. Referring to criticism over French Macron’s recent visit to China and his assertion of “strategic autonomy” over being what he called a “vassal state” to the United States, French diplomatic sources said that there had been “no change” in France’s policy towards Taiwan.
According to the sources, who spoke to The Hindu as part of a larger delegation of journalists from countries of the Indo-Pacific region invited to Paris, Mr. Macron’s visit had succeeded in three objectives on Ukraine: to secure China’s support for the Ukrainian people, to seek support for conflict resolution, and to explain the “strategic consequences of any military support to Russia in the war”.
The diplomatic sources said that France also wants India to talk to Moscow and keep up the engagement as Europe seeks solutions to the Ukraine conflict. Rather than issuing “threats”, they said they want India and China to join the United Nations “consensus against the war”, when asked about whether India’s refusal to shift away from its traditional partnership with Russia would cast a shadow on the visit.
“I think today, a lot of people understand why certain powers in the Global South, as we say, have taken that attitude and don’t want to be automatically aligned on the US or on anybody else, for that matter. And I think we’re ready to live with it,” said senior journalist Pierre Haski, who travelled to Beijing for the visit.
However, the spotlight of PM Modi’s visit will be on whether India will announce a deal to purchase French company Dassault Aviation’s “Rafale M” during the visit, which is in competition with US-made Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet jets. Significantly, PM Modi is due to travel to the US in June, and France in July. Responding to questions about a number of French defence news agency reports on the possible deal, sources in Paris told The Hindu, that “fingers were crossed”, but that such big deals take “time”.
The sources said the PM’s visit is expected, but has not yet been announced, given scheduling details to be worked out. Apart from travels to Japan and Australia for the G-7 outreach and Quad summit, PM Modi is due to visit Washington DC for his first ever State visit in June and is expected to host Russian President Vladimir Putin and Chinese President Xi Jinping amongst other leaders at the SCO summit in Delhi in early July.
Since last year, the Indian Navy has fast-tracked a process to procure 26 jets to operate off its aircraft carriers and both Boeing F/A-18 E/F Super Hornet and Dassault Aviation Rafale-M have been evaluated and the report has been submitted to the Government. Speaking on the sidelines of the Raisina Dialogue in March, Navy Chief Admiral R. Hari Kumar said both F/A-18 and Rafale-M meet the requirements of the Navy and the selection between them would be a Government decision, but officials indicated that Rafale-M may have the edge in terms of fitment on the Navy’s carriers as well as commonality with the Indian Air Force Rafales for spares etc..
If announced, the deal for the Naval fighter jets would be the first of its kind since PM Modi announced, during his visit to Paris in 2015, that the Indian air force would procure 126 Rafale jets. Despite controversies over other issues like the pricing and changes in offset policy for the 2015 deal, the air force has consistently held that the fighter jets, which were first identified for the deal in 2012, have been a “good fit” for its military requirements. In exercises that are underway in France this month (April 17-May 5), the IAF also flew four Rafales for their first overseas military exercises with the US and other European countries.
India is also looking at procuring six advanced conventional submarines to arrest its depleting submarine strength and also speeding up its indigenous SSN nuclear submarine programme and sources indicating that some discussions have been held between Paris and Delhi in this regard.