President Emmanuel Macron was guest of honour Thursday for India’s pomp-filled annual military parade, in a state visit aimed at shoring up France’s strategic ties with the world’s fifth-largest economy.
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The annual Republic Day spectacle in the heart of New Delhi is a highly choreographed spectacle featuring tank columns, fighter jet fly-pasts, acrobatic motorbike stunts and mounted camel units.
This year it coincides with a two-day diplomatic tour that reflects a growing partnership between India and France, after Macron hosted Prime Minister Narendra Modi at last year’s Bastille Day celebrations in Paris.
Macron has pushed for greater French involvement in the Asia-Pacific at a time when Washington and its Western allies are courting India as a military and economic counterweight to China.
Before his arrival in India, Macron’s office said India was “a key partner in contributing to international peace and security”.
Bienvenue en Inde, mon ami le Président @EmmanuelMacron
Je suis heureux que le Président Macron commence sa visite de l’Inde à Jaipur, au Rajasthan, un état riche de sa culture, de son patrimoine et de son peuple talentueux. C’est une grande fierté pour nous qu’il prenne part… pic.twitter.com/1fkTNT4YiS
— Narendra Modi (@narendramodi) January 25, 2024
France also hopes to build on its military contracts with India, which is already a buyer of French-made Rafale fighter jets and Scorpene-class submarines in multibillion-dollar deals.
India in turn has been working to mordernise its armed forces and has sought to diversify its defence acquisitions beyond its traditional supplier Russia.
A contingent of French soldiers including a Foreign Legion marching band joined the parade, which marks the adoption of India’s constitution in 1950.
Indian troops had marched down the Champs-Elysees last year under Modi’s watch during last year’s Bastille Day parade.
Macron was welcomed in India on Thursday with a parade of elephants and a banquet hosted by Modi — who greeted the French leader with his customary bear-hug — at an ornate hilltop maharaja’s palace in the city of Jaipur.
India’s economy and its huge market has helped the Modi government sidestep questions around its human rights record at home, their differences over the war in Ukraine, and its traditional ties with Russia.
Modi’s government has been accused of stifling independent media, with India falling 21 places to 161 out of 180 countries in Reporters Without Borders‘ press freedom index since Modi took office a decade ago.
French journalist Vanessa Dougnac was told this month that she is facing expulsion after more than two decades in India for what authorities have termed “malicious and critical” reporting.
The visit also comes days after Modi opened a Hindu temple, built on grounds where a mosque stood for centuries before it was torn down in 1992 by Hindu zealots incited by members of his party.
Modi said the temple heralded a “new era” for India after a ceremony that embodied the triumph of his muscular Hindu nationalist politics, galvanising loyalists ahead of elections this year.
He gifted Macron a miniature replica of the temple as the pair toured Jaipur together on Thursday evening.
A Macron adviser signalled that rights issues would be discussed, adding that there were “no taboo subjects” during his visit.
“But the goal is to discuss them with respect and with the aim of achieving concrete results,” they added.