‘Royal’ welcome planned for Macron as he arrives for Republic Day

The itinerary for the French President, who will be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations, includes a motorcade parade with Prime Minister Modi at Jaipur, bilateral talks, and a gala banquet at one of the city’s erstwhile royal palaces

January 19, 2024 09:52 pm | Updated January 20, 2024 10:28 am IST - NEW DELHI

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi with French President Emmanuel Macron. | Photo Credit: AP

India will organise a “rich and extensive” programme for French President Emmanuel Macron’s two-day visit next week, when he will travel to Jaipur and then to Delhi as the chief guest for Republic Day, according to sources. Mr. Macron’s visit has been organised at relatively short notice — as U.S. President Joseph Biden only informed New Delhi in December of his inability to accept India’s invitation — and is likely to span just 40 hours.

As a result, officials said that they were still working on the number of MoUs and agreements that could be signed during the visit. The itinerary, however, may make up with pomp and splendour what the meetings may lack in substance. A grand welcome is being planned for Mr. Macron in Jaipur on January 25, including a joint motorcade parade with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, bilateral talks, and a gala banquet at one of the city’s erstwhile royal palaces.

Also read: Why Republic Day is celebrated

According to the sources, Mr. Macron will arrive in Jaipur and be received by Mr. Modi on the afternoon of January 25, before the two leaders go on the roadshow and head for bilateral talks. On January 26, the French President will officiate at the Republic Day parade in Delhi, and then attend functions organised by the French Embassy, as well as the ‘At Home’ tea at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the evening. Mr. Macron is expected to fly out after the official functions are over, either on the night of January 26, or early on January 27.

Defence, digital collaboration

Officials said that at least a dozen MoUs would be signed after the talks in Jaipur. Though all eyes will be on big ticket defence deals — including for aircraft, submarines and jet engine technology — officials said these were all still being “worked upon”, pointing to the growth of the “made in India” components of such deals as significant.

A special focus will be on “digital collaboration” and, in particular, on implementing a grand announcement made last June during Mr. Modi’s visit to Paris as the chief guest at France’s Bastille Day parade, for Indian UPI digital payments to be accepted in France, beginning with tickets for the Eiffel Tower. The two sides will also discuss progress on cooperation in other areas including strategic ties, maritime security and Indo-Pacific strategy, climate change and green transitions, and collaborations between the Indian and French space agencies.

“This visit will cap the 25th year of our strategic partnership. France was the first country in the western world that India signed a strategic partnership agreement with and that partnership has strengthened in all bilateral and multilateral arenas,” an official said.

Jaitapur project still stuck

However, the sources said that progress is still awaited on the long-pending project to set up six nuclear power reactors totalling 9,900 MW in Maharashtra’s Jaitapur. Differences remain in a number of areas, including cost and feasibility as well as nuclear liability, all of which have held up the deal first inked in 2009. Despite France’s EDF submitting a binding techno-commercial offer in April 2021 to Indian nuclear company NPCIL, officials and engineers on the two sides have not been able to reach an agreement on the contract. The sources pointed out that after an agreement last year, the two sides are now also discussing French offers for small modular reactors, which have a capacity lower than 300 MW.

The two leaders are also expected to continue their talks on a 2047 Horizon Roadmap they agreed to last year, which includes three partnership pillars: for security and sovereignty, for the planet, and for the people. In particular, the two sides hope to build up their trade relationship, which grew to its highest levels last year, but remains low compared to other such ties, at about $13.7 billion (12.58 billion euros).

‘High on symbolism’

Given the short time between the previous big visit by Mr. Modi to Paris in July 2023, followed by Mr. Macron’s visit to Delhi for the G-20 in September, officials suggested that while rapid progress is being made in all spheres, Mr. Macron’s visit to India next week will be high on “symbolism”. When asked whether France had hesitated in accepting the invitation, given that it was publicly known that the U.S. President had been invited earlier, the sources said that the “close personal relationship” between Mr. Modi and Mr. Macron ensured that the “invitation was promptly accepted.”

This is Mr. Macron’s third visit to India since he took over as President in 2017, and the sixth time a French leader has been asked to be the chief guest at Republic Day; in fact, this makes France the country that has been invited the most number of times. (The U.K. ranks second, with five such R-day visits). It has been only six years since a French President was last invited, with Francois Hollande having been the chief guest at Republic Day in 2016.

When asked, the sources said that the number of the R-day visits “befits” France’s special status as a partner and “strong supporter” of India, not only bilaterally, but multilaterally at the United Nations and in other arrangements as well.

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