Monday, 25 September 2023

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India announces new French fighter jet deal as Modi visits Paris

PARIS, FRANCE — India announced a new multi-billion-dollar deal for French fighter jets on Thursday as Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Paris for a two-day trip that will see him feted as the guest of honour during France’s national day celebrations.

India’s defence ministry said that the country intended to order 26 more Rafale jets as well as another three Scorpene-class submarines, with the price and other terms still being worked out.

India is one of the biggest buyers of French arms, and Modi announced a landmark deal for 36 Rafale fighter jets during a 2015 trip to Paris that was worth around 4.0 billion euros at the time.

Some of those Indian-piloted Rafales will take part in a flypast on Friday during France’s Bastille Day military parade where Modi will sit alongside French President Emmanuel Macron as guest of honour.

“This closeness is not limited to just the leaders of two countries, it is in fact a reflection of the unwavering friendship between India and France,” Modi told an enthusiastic crowd of Indians living in France on Thursday evening.

Despite differences over the war in Ukraine and tensions over human rights in India, Western democracies are courting Modi and India as a counterweight to China in Asia.

Macron’s red carpet welcome comes weeks after Modi was given the rare honour of a White House state dinner in Washington — a city he was once banned from visiting.

Macron told a meeting of military leaders on Thursday evening he was “happy to welcome India as a guest of honour to our parade”.

“It’s a giant of world history which will have a decisive role in our future. It’s also a strategic partner and a friend,” he said.

Human rights

But amid the pomp and diplomatic courting in France, a resolution from the European Parliament on Thursday served as a reminder of Modi’s controversial leadership style and Hindu nationalist agenda that has critics at home and abroad.

Sitting in Strasbourg in eastern France, EU parliamentarians approved a motion that urged India to end violence in the country’s restive northeastern Manipur state and to protect minorities there.

Clashes between the majority Meitei, who are mostly Hindus, and the mainly Christian Kuki tribe have left at least 120 people dead, 50,000 displaced and over 1,700 houses destroyed, the parliament said.

It criticised the “nationalistic rhetoric” of the local state government, run by Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP).

Modi’s role during Bastille Day in France was “an affront not only to India’s minority communities, journalists and human rights defenders but also to India as a democracy,” the text’s chief negotiator, Pierre Larrouturou, said.

A protest called against Modi drew only a few dozen people in central Paris on Thursday.

Strategic partnership

Modi has visited France four times since Macron came to power in 2017, while Macron was honoured with a state visit to New Delhi in 2018.

Aides on both sides have talked up the personal chemistry between the two leaders and pointed to cooperation on climate change, space technology and nuclear power as part of a 25-year-old “strategic partnership” between France and India.

Modi told French newspaper Les Echos that bilateral trade had doubled in the last nine years and Macron’s “thinking really matches ours”.

India and France “are naturally compatible” and “we see France as one of our foremost global partners,” Modi added.

Few observers expect Macron to raise rights concerns with Modi publicly.

“The fact that explains France’s relative success in this relationship is that unlike the US, the UK, Canada, Germany and a few other European countries, you’ve hardly seen France commenting on the internal affairs of India,” Constantino Xavier from the Centre for Social and Economic Progress, a New Delhi-based think tank, said this week.

“That has been appreciated on the Indian side.”

Modi has been dogged by allegations he was complicit in religious violence during his tenure as chief minister of the western state of Gujarat in 2002 when around 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in sectarian riots.

The Indian government and judicial probes have cleared him of culpability.

Since his first crushing electoral victory in 2014, he has also been denounced by rights groups for increased discrimination and violence towards the country’s Muslims, as well as stifling independent media.

“Diversity is the biggest strength of our democracy,” he told the meeting on Thursday evening that also lauded the country’s economic growth.

Many European and American businesses, including US tech giant Apple, are ramping up production there to mitigate the threat of supply chain disruptions from China.

The war in Ukraine has heightened concerns in the West about the risk of conflicts disrupting the flow of key raw materials and technology from China, but it has also exposed a rift with India.

New Delhi, which has long sought to balance its ties with Moscow and the West, has declined to condemn Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine and has emerged as a top buyer of discounted Russian oil during the biggest conflict in Europe since World War II.


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