France is staging a seduction campaign for visiting Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, guest of honour at Friday's annual Bastille Day parade.
France is looking to further strengthen cooperation with New Delhi on an array of topics ranging from climate to military sales and the strategic Indo-Pacific region.
But human rights, seen as an increasingly pressing subject in India under Prime Minister Narendra Modi, was missing from the vast agenda.
President Emmanuel Macron praised India in a speech Thursday evening in front of defence officials as a “key partner" in France's "future".
"It is a giant in the history of the world that will have a determining role in our future," he said ahead of a dinner with Modi at the Elysee Palace, calling India “a strategic partner and friend.”
Macron, with Modi at his side, will preside over Friday’s grandiose annual military parade to mark France’s national day. Indian troops will march and three French-made Indian Rafale jets will do a fly-by.
As Modi arrived Thursday, India's Defense Acquisition Council approved the purchase of 26 Rafales for the Indian Navy. The price is to be negotiated with the French, a statement said.
The purchase of three Scorpene submarines, developed by France and Spain, was also green-lit.
Critics have voiced concern about France giving such a platform to Modi. India's 72-year-old prime minister is widely viewed as increasingly authoritarian and his Hindu nationalist party as divisive.
In a report in April, the campaign group Amnesty International said freedom of expression had declined under the Indian PM.
The European Parliament passed a resolution on Thursday for “human rights to be integrated into all areas of the EU-India partnership, including in trade.” The resolution called on member states “to systematically and publicly raise human rights concerns” at the highest level.
Modi’s two-day visit comes as Paris and New Delhi mark the 25th anniversary of their strategic partnership.
It crucially precedes Macron’s trip this month to the Indo-Pacific region, home to 1.5 million French nationals.
Talks with Modi are aimed at ensuring the vast region remains a space where security, notably of the seas, and other key concerns like climate are preserved. Macron called it “an essential strategy for the balance of the planet”.
Modi is being courted by other nations. His two-day visit to France comes on the heels of his June trip to the United States, where President Joe Biden offered Modi a lavish welcome. Modi was recently in Egypt and he is to head to the United Arab Emirates after leaving France.
Ten personalities, including noted economist Thomas Piketty and former French ambassador to Denmark France Zimeray, implored Macron in a commentary Thursday in the newspaper Le Monde to “encourage Prime Minister Modi to end repression of the civil society, assure freedom of major media (outlets) and protect religious liberty”.
Modi, who governs the world's largest population, rarely talks to the press at home or abroad. But responding to a human rights question at a rare news conference during his Washington trip, he said that “democracy runs in our veins” and insisted that there is ”absolutely no space for discrimination.”