A 130-strong company of the French army will participate in the Republic Day parade on 26 January in New Delhi, around seven years after Indian soldiers marched on the Champs-Élysées in Paris on France’s Bastille Day parade, on 14 July 2009. This is the first time that foreign troops will participate in India’s R-Day parade. Experts have welcomed the move as a gesture of goodwill, saying this will further strengthen ties between India and France and increase strategic cooperation between the two countries.
“This is a great move to strengthen ties between India and France. Not many people remember that an Indian armed forces’ contingent took part in France’s Bastille Day parade in 2009. Personnel from the Army, Navy and Air Force participated in their celebrations. So this has been a long time coming. This gesture might not hold any relevance in terms of shaping the Rafale deal, but the parade will surely be a sight to remember,” Uday Bhaskar, strategic affairs and defence expert, told The Sunday Guardian.
“Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar has already said that the Rafale deal is in its final stages and might be signed very soon. So it is natural that French President Françoise Hollande was called as the chief guest for the Republic Day parade. He will definitely want to push it as soon as possible. India and France have signed some landmark agreements in the recent past like the civil nuclear cooperation pact. The Rafale deal is also set to be signed during Hollande’s visit. So, these events will take place as a result of the years of efforts to improve and increase bilateral cooperation between the two countries,” he added.
Initially, there were security concerns about foreign troops coming to India and taking part in the parade, but the authorities have quashed all arguments against this, saying that the security situation is good and there is no need to worry.
“They (French troops) are already in India and more troops will accompany their President. It is not for the first time that these troops will come to India. Yes, this is the first time they will march with our soldiers on 26 January. This participation has come as an addition to the joint exercise Shakti 2016. More troops will arrive shortly. Everything has been properly planned and we have been working on this for months. There is nothing to fear. We are on guard and on top of everything. This gesture is one of goodwill and we are committed to see it through smooth and safe. The preparations for the parade are on schedule and moving forward as planned,” a senior member among those responsible for the Prime Minister’s security told this newspaper.
While quashing security concerns surrounding Hollande’s visit to India, defence expert Pushpesh Pant said, “Our troops have also participated in their Bastille Day parade. So this is a gesture of goodwill and shows mutual respect. The fear of security concerns is simply exaggerated. India successfully hosted Barack Obama as the chief guest last year, so we can handle high-profile dignitaries. We should look forward to French troops taking part in our celebrations. India is trying to forge a long-term partnership with France. The benefits of such a partnership go beyond just the Rafale deal. We should support this gesture wholeheartedly.”
A 56-man contingent of the 35th infantry regiment of French 7th Armoured Brigade arrived in India on 6 January this year.
More troops will fly into India before Wednesday to form a proper marching contingent of 130 troops. The 56 soldiers took part in a joint military exercise called Shakti 2016 at Mahajan Field Firing Ranges in Rajasthan’s Bikaner from 8-16 January. The French troops participated in the Shakti exercise with Indian personnel from the 2nd Battalion of Garwhal Rifles.
Shakti 2016 was the seventh installment of joint bilateral exercises under the banner. The first took place in 2011. Experts say that the exercise will improve counter-terrorism and counter-insurrection capabilities. It focused on counter-terrorism operations in the backdrop of semi-urban terrain under the mandate of the United Nations.
“The 35th Infantry Regiment specialises in close combat. Also, the joint exercise is important in terms of improving our anti-terrorism and anti-insurrection capabilities. They are equipped with fantastic modern equipment like the VBCI eight-wheeled armoured vehicle made by Nexter Systems and the FELIN soldier combat system made by Sagem. The unit became entirely digitalised in 2006. So that makes them one of the most modern regiments of the French army. Also, Indian forces specialise in combat in difficult terrains like deserts, hills, mountains etc. There is only so much that both parties can learn from each other,” Pant said.