New Delhi, Jan 21: India and France are expected to take forward their "special and strategic" ties covering key areas of defence and security during the visit of French President Francois Hollande, who will be the Chief Guest at the Republic Day celebrations next week.
Hollande will be arriving in Chandigarh on January 24 where he is expected to be received by Prime Minister Narendra Modi. The two will hold extensive talks here a day after during which ways to strengthen counter-terror cooperation in the aftermath of Paris and Pathankot terror strikes will figure prominently.
Both sides are also working hard to get the multi-billion Rafale fighter jets deal inked during the visit. Hollande will be the fifth French leader to be a Chief Guest at India's Republic Day celebrations -- the maximum number from any country so far.
Earlier leaders from that country had presided in 1976, 1980, 1998 and 2008. Significantly, for the first time, French soldiers will march down the Rajpath on Republic Day along with Indian troops, a first for any foreign army.
Briefing reporters on the visit, External Affairs Ministry Spokesperson Vikas Swarup said, "Our bilateral relationship with France is very comprehensive. It covers defence, civil nuclear cooperation, railways, smart cities, science and space... In all these areas we expect some forward progress during the French President's visit."
Trade is another main component of the ties, he said. Referring to the terror attacks in Paris in November last and at the Pathankot air base earlier this month, he said cooperation between two countries on the matters of counter- terrorism has acquired a significant dimension.
"We can expect a lot of discussion on the issue," he said while pointing out that both India and France have been victims of terrorism.
The two sides are also working hard to seal the final contract for the 36 Rafales with the sources maintaining that discussions were held at the "highest level" on both sides to get over the roadblocks.
Noting that there are strong defence ties between India and France, he said it was expected that the "special and strategic" ties will be taken forward during the visit. Significantly, France was the first country with which India established a Strategic Partnership in 1998 after New Delhi conducted nuclear tests.
France is also the first country with which India entered into a civil nuclear energy cooperation in 2008 after obtaining the NSG waiver.
Accompanied by a high-level delegation, Hollande will be landing in Chandigarh, which was designed by Swiss-French architect Charles-Edouard Jeanneret-Gris, also known as Le Corbusier between 1950s and 1960s, and will be accompanied by Modi during the sightseeing to most frequented tourist spots in the city including 'The Rock Garden'.
The two will also attend a CEO's forum before leaving for the national capital in the evening of January 24.