People in the northern Indian city of Chandigarh were thrilled to welcome French President Francois Hollande, who embarked on a three-day official visit to the South Asian country on Sunday.


President Hollande will be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade on the iconic Rajpath at the heart of New Delhi on January 26. He will be the fifth French leader to be a Chief Guest at India’s R-Day celebrations – the maximum number from any country so far. Earlier, French leaders had graced the occasion in 1976, 1980, 1998 and 2008. In a rare first, French soldiers will also march down the Rajpath on R-Day along with Indian troops – also a first for any foreign Army.

India’s gesture reciprocates one from Paris to New Delhi back in 2009. On July 14, 2009, the Maratha Light Infantry – one of the oldest regiments of the Indian Army – had marched down the Champs Elysee in Paris with the French Army on the occasion of Bastille Day, celebrated in memory of the storming of the Bastille on July 14, 1789 – the symbolic start to the French Revolution.

Earlier on Sunday, Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived in Chandigarh, the only city outside France designed by Swiss-French architect Le Corbusier, to welcome his guest. Later, they held talks at the Rock Garden – the Indian city’s best-known landmark. According to sources close to the Prime Minister’s Office, the two leaders discussed India’s ambitious plan to create 100 “smart cities” and other important bilateral, regional and global issues.

As per his itinerary, President Hollande is scheduled to attend a foundation stone laying ceremony of the new headquarters of the International Solar Alliance in Chandigarh on Monday. He will also attend India-France Business Summit in the northern city to interact with Indian industrialists before leaving for the Indian capital. During his stay in New Delhi, India and France are expected to reach a conclusion on a multi-billion-dollar agreement for the purchase of 36 French Rafale jets for the Indian Air Force.

Upon his arrival in India, Hollande, being accompanied by his defence, finance and foreign affairs ministers, said: “This visit will be an opportunity for political exchange, protocol, but also to further deepen our bilateral exchanges on economic and strategic matters.” The French president also thanked the Indian government for inviting him to attend the R-Day parade as Chief Guest.

This R-Day parade will be different, as it will witness some changes this year. After almost 26 years, the Indian Army’s dog squad, which has saved the lives of many soldiers in counter-terrorism operations, will take part in the parade. The Army, which has around 1,200 Labradors and German Shepherds, has selected 36 canines for the mega event.

Koushik Das, based in the Indian capital of New Delhi, is a senior news editor with more than 15 years of experience. He also runs a blog - Boundless Ocean of Politics. E-Mail: [email protected]