France yesterday became the first Western power to hold talks in India with the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi as Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius arrived to push defence deals and trade.
The reform-minded Modi has been widely courted by Western governments since his election in May, with his plans to open up the economy and spur economic growth raising hopes for foreign investors.
European governments and the United States boycotted him for a decade over religious riots which occurred while he was running his home state of Gujarat. They are now redoubling efforts to make up for lost time.
Japan, which has long-standing ties with Modi, is widely seen as the best poised among major powers, but Fabius stressed the importance of arriving first in New Delhi.
"It's an honour," he said at the French embassy where he held talks with India-based business leaders. "It shows the depth of the ties between India and France." He is set to meet Modi today.
Fabius raised the slow-moving Rafale jet deal during talks with his Indian counterpart Sushma Swaraj in New Delhi.
"We are pretty confident in swift developments and it would be very important because stemming from this contract we can develop a large partnership in the domain of defence," Fabius told a press conference.
Other issues include deals to supply new nuclear reactors to India, efforts to boost tourism and space cooperation.