French President Francois Hollande has been invited as the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations in January 2016. If the French Presidency conveys acceptance, Hollande will be returning to India for a State visit after three years.
Sources told The Sunday Express that the invitation had been sent “some weeks ago” but the French President’s state visit will assume significance in the backdrop of the Paris terror attacks last week which left 129 people dead and over 300 hundred injured.
Though the French Presidency is yet to announce the visit since it is handling the aftermath of the attacks amid a national emergency, Hollande’s visit will be key to forging enhanced counter-terrorism cooperation with France, as it is already a strategic partner on defence and nuclear issues.
“Terrorism has emerged as a major global challenge that affects us all here. We have excellent bilateral cooperation with ASEAN members. And, we should see how we can enhance our cooperation at the regional and international level, including through support for adoption of Comprehensive Convention on International Terrorism.”
“As our rapidly transforming region navigates its way through uncertain times to a peaceful and prosperous future, we look forward to ASEAN leading the way in defining the regional architecture,” Modi said. Hollande had come to India on a State visit with his then-partner Valerie Trierweiler in February 2013. He had travelled to Mumbai as well, apart from Delhi for the official talks.
An invitation to be the Republic Day chief guest is highly symbolic from the Indian government’s perspective. For the 2015 parade, the Modi government had invited Barack Obama, which was his second visit as US President to India. Sources said India was keen to host Hollande since France has emerged as a key strategic partner on defence and nuclear issues. And with the gruesome Paris attacks, counter-terrorism will be a key area of cooperation.
The government has been weaving strategy with hospitality to decide its chief guest for the Republic Day. The choice of chief guest every year is dictated by a number of reasons — strategic and diplomatic, business interest and international geo-politics. In 2008, President Nicolas Sarkozy of France was invited as the chief guest — the two countries had finalised their bilateral civil nuclear cooperation agreement as India awaited conclusion of the safeguards agreement with the IAEA.
In the past, French Presidents and PMs have been invited as the chief guest several times. In 1998, Jacques Chirac came to India as the Republic Day chief guest as the President of France, while he had been chief guest in 1976 as Prime Minister.
French President Valery Giscard d’Estaing had also visited India as the Republic Day chief guest in 1980. That France is a key partner in India’s strategic affairs is evident from the fact that Modi, who visited France in April this year within the first year of his term, is headed to Paris once again this month-end for the COP-21 — the conference on climate change — where he is expected to launch the “solar alliance”.
In April this year, Modi said his visit to Europe was starting with France as it symbolized the “inherently deep, old and important relationship” between the two countries. Counting France as one of India’s “closest friends and reliable partners”, Modi said France had stood by India in “both good and challenging times”.
France has been one of early supporters of India’s bid to become a permanent member at the UN Security Council and has also been advocating India’s membership to the export control bodies, like the Nuclear Suppliers Group. In fact, it was one of the key players in getting India exemption from the NSG, as India was negotiating the Indo-US civil nuclear cooperation agreement.
And once the NSG waiver came through, it was the first country to sign a nuclear deal with India — ahead of the US. It has also emerged as the preferred choice in getting high-end defence equipment. In April this year, India announced its intention to buy 36 Rafale jets in “flyaway condition” in a government-to-government deal, although it has been now hemmed in by official negotiations.
France has also shown interest in almost all of the BJP government’s flagship initiatives — from Make in India to Digital India, from smart cities to skill development. The two countries have also been involved in space cooperation for about 50 years now, and French and Indian scientists are now talking to each other on satellite manufacturing and their launch, even planetary exploration. “Given the breadth of cooperation, it is natural for India to extend an invitation to the French President,” a South Block official told The Sunday Express.
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