Tuesday, June 18, 2024

When The Indians Come Marching By…

By Bikram Vohra

The Indians are coming. And indeed, they are, proudly in step with their French comrades the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force contingents will march in the Bastille Day parade today. Also known as French National Day, the pomp and ceremony commemorates the storming of the Bastille prison on July 14, 1789, which marked a turning point in the French Revolution.

The Bastille was a symbol of the absolute monarchy’s power and oppression, and its fall became a significant event in the Revolution.

 The primary participants in the parade are 6,300 French military forces, including the French Army, Navy, Air Force, and Gendarmerie. Additionally, international contingents from allied nations are often invited to participate as a symbol of solidarity and cooperation. This year, to mark Franco-Indian relations and a new chapter in military co-operation the Indian representation is doing just that.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will sit with President Macron as the sounds of ‘Sare Jahan se achha Hindustan hamara’ rent the Parisian air and a 269 super smart contingent led by the Punjab regiment strides down the iconic Champs Elysee. Up in the skies three Indian Rafales will engage with their French counterparts in a tight and breathtaking display of synchronised flying.

And berthed at Brest and taking part in the parade in this port town will be the crew of the INS Chennai, an indigenously built frontline destroyer. Today, India operates its own aircraft carrier, destroyers, frigates and nuclear submarines. 

Back in Paris the practice sessions of the marching echelons have attracted much attention for the precision of their marching and the stunning uniforms of the Indian contingent.

 But it isn’t all sizzle. There is a lot of steak and it is now very much on the cards that India will follow up its 36 Rafale aircraft deal with 26 to 30 marine variants as firepower for its carriers. Although the F/A-18 Super Hornet Block III is also on offer to the Indian Navy and is marketed as  the most advanced, combat-proven, multi-role frontline naval fighter from the point of view of compatibility and the current closeness of India and France on the military front the Hornet might lose its sting. With the well timed green signal of approval emanating from the Ministry of Defence as PM Modi takes off, adds tangible warmth to the welcome.

Buying French aircraft is not a new deal and since 1953 India has invested in six types of planes totalling 450 units which include the Ouragan, Mystère IV, Alizé, Jaguar, Mirage 2000 and, finally, the Rafale.

It is significant that this year also marks 25 years of the mutual co-operative venture signed between the two countries. India is the customer of choice and accounts for over 30% of French hardware exports. After Russia, Indian forces import maximum items from France and account for 11% of global military exports. According to a Bloomberg report France has offered to jointly design, manufacture and transfer jet engine technology without restrictions to India.

 If the marine version goes through this $3.3 billion deal will open the door to another three Scorpene submarines to add heft to its already highly improved water power.

This meeting between the two leaders set against the backdrop of spit and polish and much fervour underscores the French intent to replace Russia as the prime arms and hardware supplier to India. The French are ready to share technology and establish manufacturing beachheads on India soil.

That presence has already got a head start. Dassault Aviation and the Reliance Group established the Dassault Reliance Aerospace Limited (DRAL) Joint Venture in 2017 and built a plant in Nagpur that has been producing numerous Falcon parts and pieces since 2018. It is engaging with around 60 other Indian companies for starting further ventures. Five essential parts for the Rafale are also being built here and will be fitted into all Rafale aircraft back in France.

But for now sit back and watch our contingent hold the tricolour aloft as an Indian band plucks the heartstrings of two nations. 

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