CHANDIGARH, INDIA: France’s President Francois Hollande played down the prospects of a swift conclusion to a drawn-out deal for New Delhi to buy 36 French fighter jets as he flew to India on Sunday for a three-day visit.
The invitation for Hollande to be chief guest at India’s Republic Day military parade on Tuesday had raised expectations that the multi-billion dollar agreement for the Rafale jets would finally be nailed down. But in an interview published hours ahead of his arrival, Hollande warned that while negotiations were making progress, agreement on the final details would still take time.
Hollande told the Press Trust of India that the deal “was a major project for India and France” that would “pave the way for an unprecedented industrial and technological cooperation” for the next four decades. “Agreeing on the technicalities of this arrangement obviously takes time, but we are on the right track,” he told the news agency.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced in Paris last year that New Delhi had agreed to buy the jets as India looks to modernise its Soviet-era military, in part to keep up with neighbouring rivals Pakistan and China.
The two leaders stepped into the long-delayed deal last year, after torturous negotiations over a much-larger agreement first signed with France’s Dassault Aviation in 2012 broke down. An ongoing sticking point has been Delhi’s standard requirement that arms makers invest a percentage of the value of any major deal in India, known as the offset clause.
Hollande, who flew out of Paris late Saturday, will begin his second official visit to India by touring the northern city of Chandigarh, designed by French architect Le Corbusier more than 60 years ago.
Hollande will meet Modi for a tour of Chandigarh’s renowned rock garden, with its sculptures made out of rubble from the city’s construction. The French leader, travelling with a large business delegation, will also address, along with Modi, a forum of Indian CEOs in the evening.
On Monday, the leaders are expected to announce a roadmap for building six French nuclear reactors in western Maharashtra state, more than five years after a bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement was signed, according to the Times of India newspaper.
The pair will also lay a foundation stone at the new headquarters of the International Solar Alliance, a 121-nation group launched by Modi at the Paris COP21 conference in November, to expand affordable solar power.
Security will be high on the agenda after deadly Islamist attacks in Paris in November that evoked memories of the 2008 Mumbai attacks, which left 166 people dead, and a deadly assault earlier this month on India’s Pathankok air base. “France strongly condemned the attack on Pathankot. India is fully justified to ask for justice against perpetrators,” Hollande told PTI.
“India and France are confronted with similar threats: we are attacked by murderers who pretend to act on religious basis. Their real objective is widespread hate. They want to undermine our democratic values and our way of life. India and France are united in their determination to act together against terrorism.”
Hollande said last week that a coalition waging a bombing campaign against the Islamic State (IS) group in Syria and Iraq would “accelerate” air strikes. India launched a nationwide security crackdown in the lead up to Republic Day celebrations, arresting a string of suspected militants during raids in four states.
Security was tight ahead of Hollande’s arrival, with armed police and paramilitary forces patrolling the streets of Chandigarh, which lies 250 kilometres (150 miles) north of Delhi.
Hollande and Modi are expected to sit side by side to watch Tuesday’s pomp-filled spectacle of military might — that includes columns of soldiers and Soviet-era tanks — along Delhi’s central Rajpath avenue.
The parade is the highlight of annual celebrations of the birth of modern India. US President Barack Obama was last year’s chief guest.