President Hollande’s visit: Counter-terrorism, security on agenda
by Ashok B Sharma on 20 Jan 2016 1 Comment
There is much enthusiasm in the country to see French troops march down Rajpath along with Indian contingents on the 67th Republic Day when President Francois Hollande will be the chief guest. This will be the first time that a contingent from a foreign country would be participating in the march past on the day India adopted the Constitution in 1950.


It is mostly likely that the French contingent comprising 56 personnel of the 35th Infantry Regiment of 7th Armoured Brigade, which participated in the Afghan war and is now participating in the 8-day counter-terrorism joint exercise known as Shakti 2016 in Rajasthan, will join in the historic R-Day parade. Some soldiers are also likely to fly down from Paris to join their brethren in forming a full contingent for the parade.


France had given India a similar honour in its Bastille Day celebrations on July 14, 2009. Indian troops drawn from all three services - Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force - marched down the Champs Elysee in Paris along with the French Army on French National Day which is celebrated to commemorate the Storming of the Bastille on the morning of July 14, 1789. The Maratha Light Infantry, one of the oldest regiments of the Indian Army, participated on the occasion. 


Francois Hollande will be the fourth French President and fifth French leader to be the chief guest on India’s R-Day, after President Valery Giscard d’Estaing (1980) President Jacques Chirac (1998) and President Nicolas Sarkozy (2008). Jacques Chirac was invited as chief guest in 1976 when he was the Prime Minister.


This is not just reciprocating the honour the French had extended to the Indian Armed Forces on Bastille Day, but to demonstrate that the two nations are united in the fight against terrorism. Like India, France has been victim of intermittent acts of religious fundamentalism and terror, most notably the Charlie Hebdo attack on January 7, 2015 and the Paris massacre in November 2015 on the eve of the Climate Change Conference. France with its enshrined principles of Liberty, Fraternity and Equality stands on the same footing as a vibrant secular democracy like India.


After the Charlie Hebdo attack, 40 world leaders gathered in Paris to offer their sympathy to the cause and pledged their determination to fight terrorism. India then thought of inviting President Hollande and the French contingent to participate in the R-Day celebrations. It is most likely that counter-terrorism and security will be top of the agenda.


Prime Minister Narendra Modi in his visit to France in April last year had already laid the foundation for talks on counter-terrorism and security, apart from trade and investment. In this visit, Mr Modi urged France to enhance cooperation in the maritime domain, particularly in the Indian Ocean region. New Delhi intends to work closely with France in realising the objectives enshrined in the Charter of Indian Ocean Rim Association where Paris enjoys Observer status. Prime Minister Modi and President Francois Hollande have both stressed the importance of joint military exercises between their armies, navies and air forces. French Carrier Battle group will participate in the joint naval exercise, Varuna, in the Indian Ocean in coming weeks.


Following Prime Minister Modi’s Paris visit, the 14th edition of India-France naval exercise -Varuna - was conducted off the Goa coast from April 23 to May 2, 2015, which had both a harbour and sea phase exercise. The French Navy was represented by aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle, two destroyers Chevalier Paul and Jean de Vienne, replenishment tanker Meuse and a maritime patrol aircraft Atlantique-2. The aircraft carrier Charles de Gaulle was carrying its complement of fighter aircraft Rafale M, Strike Aircraft Super Etendard, E2C Hawkeye AWACS and helicopters Dauphin and Alouette 3. On Indian side aircraft carrier INS Viraat, destroyer INS Mumbai, stealth frigate INS Tarkash, guided missile frigate INS Gomati, replenishment tanker INS Deepak, submarine INS Shankul and a few fast attack craft along with P-8 I Long Range Maritime Reconnaissance and Seaking 42B and Chetak helicopters, participated.


The most important deal struck during Mr Modi’s visit in matters of security was to pave the way for acquiring 36 Rafale jets in fly-away condition for the Indian Air Force. Prime Minister Modi and President Hollande agreed to ease the process through an Inter-Governmental Agreement (IGA) that will be on terms better than those offered by Dassault Aviation in the course of over three years of negotiations. It was agreed that the Rafale jets would be delivered “in time-frame that would be compatible with the operational requirement of IAF and that the aircraft and associated systems and weapons would be delivered on the same configuration as had been tested and approved by IAF and with a longer maintenance responsibility by France.”


According to India’s Defence Procurement Procedure (DPP) 2013, purchases under IGA need not follow the standard procurement procedure and standard contract document but can be based on mutually agreed provisions. It now depends upon how the IGA would be worked out and terms to be stipulated relating to pricing, delivery schedule, training and maintenance.


So far Mr Modi has sought to address the urgent needs of the Indian Air Force by seeking to cut the delay and hoping for better terms. His much touted concept of ‘Make in India’ and technology transfer are not addressed in this agreement. But the eagerness to purchase 36 Rafale jets right away is a bold step keeping in view the low allocation for capital expenditure in the current year’s Defence Budget which is not sufficient for mega deals in pipeline like tanker aircraft deal with Airbus, two helicopter contracts with Boeing and Rafale fighter deal. The Prime Minister visited the Airbus Facility at Toulouse when in France.


To fill the low level radar gaps along the border, new Low Level Transportable Radars (LLTRs) are being inducted in IAF from M/s Thales, France with transfer of technology. M/s BEL will produce few of these state of the art radars in India. These radars are mobile and can be deployed anywhere as per operational requirements.


Another major takeaway from the France visit was the agreement between L&T and the French company AREVA for reducing the cost of Jaitapur nuclear power project by increasing localization in the spirit of ‘Make in India’, transfer of technology and development of indigenous nuclear energy industry in India. An agreement was signed between NPCIL and AREVA for early conclusion of techno-commercial study for construction of six 1650 Mwe nuclear power plants so that all parties – AREVA, Alstom and NPCIL – can firm up their price and optimize all provisions for risks.


France has supported India’s membership to four multilateral export control regimes and assured India of intensifying cooperation in space technology.


Prime Minister Modi got assurances of cooperation for his pet projects – modernization of railways, including semi-high speed trains, renewable energy projects, smart cities, heritage cities, skill development, Ganga cleaning among others.


France, which is a victim of terrorism, is a likely ally with India in counter-terrorism and security. President Hollande’s visit is expected to strengthen this bond.   

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