Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi has arrived in France for a two-day visit as New Delhi signalled that it would approve plans to buy French jets and submarines.
Modi landed in Paris on Thursday at the invitation of President Emmanuel Macron, who has made the Indian leader a guest of honour at Bastille Day celebrations in the capital.
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India will be part of a military parade on Friday, with the Indian air force performing a fly-past.
Ahead of his departure, Modi said he was looking forward to holding wide-ranging discussions on taking forward a “longstanding and time-tested partnership”.
The Hindu nationalist leader was welcomed at Orly airport near Paris by French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne and met members of the Indian diaspora. Later, he is to attend a lavish dinner at the Louvre Museum with Macron.
A warm welcome by the Indian diaspora in Paris! Across the world, our diaspora has made a mark for themselves and are admired for their diligence and hardworking nature. pic.twitter.com/NtQCSmpCt3
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) July 13, 2023
Analysts said that while France and India have differing positions on the Russia-Ukraine war, these views are unlikely to impact the foundations of their relationship.
Manoj Joshi, a senior analyst at the New Delhi-based Observer Research Foundation, told Al Jazeera that the visit will focus on India-France ties and is “not really aimed at the European situation”.
“The differences between the Indian position and that of France is well known and is unlikely to be an issue,” Joshi said.
France strongly supports Ukraine and has sent military aid to Kyiv while pressuring Russian President Vladimir Putin to stop the conflict. By contrast, India has maintained a publicly neutral stance and snapped up Russian oil.
Even so, Joshi said Modi’s visit will boost the pair’s relationship.
“France has a view of strategic autonomy which is much like that of India. As for the defence industry, again the relationship is old, and India is seeking to move it now from arms transfer and co-development to joint development of weapons and systems.”
As for France, Joshi believes Paris is looking to India “as an important market for its high-tech industry”.
New defence deals
On Thursday, the Indian body in charge of approving military acquisition gave a nod to the procurement of 26 Rafale fighter aircraft from France.
India’s defence ministry added that the Defence Acquisition Council also gave an initial approval to the purchase of three additional Scorpene-class submarines.
India has been purchasing French military gear for decades, and the new deals are reportedly worth about $10bn
Indian security experts said defence acquisitions allow New Delhi to diversify its military hardware partners and reduce its dependency on ageing Russian military equipment.
From 2018 to 2022, France emerged as India’s second largest arms supplier, accounting for 29 percent of imports, according to the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
Parth Satam, a foreign policy expert and editor at EurAsian Times, told Al Jazeera that unlike the United States, France will not try to persuade India to turn on Russia or pressure Modi to take a harder line on Moscow.
“[France] knows India will stick to its neutral stand, and a joint statement, if there is one after PM Modi and President Macron meet, might not see a reference to Ukraine. India’s individual statement will also continue to refer to the war as the ‘Ukraine conflict’.”
Satam said India is likely seeking greater French participation in defence programmes that involve manufacturing within India.
“This includes … localisation of manufacturing defence aerospace components and devices,” he said. “Such deals deliver greater benefits to Indian industry in terms of job creation and access to advanced military-scientific technology.”
France is “not unwilling” to make such deals, he added.
According to Christophe Jaffrelot, professor of Indian politics and sociology at the King’s India Institute, the ties between India and France are “dominated” by security objectives.
In the Indian Express, he wrote: “Official narratives do emphasise structural affinities such as democratic like-mindedness, but what matters more are common, security-related interests.”
Another area in which India and France align is on China, Jaffrelot said, explaining that while Macron is concerned with “Chinese expansionism”, India is “equally worried about the growing influence of China in its neighbourhood”.