New Delhi: In what will seemingly be a breakthrough in negotiations on India’s purchase of 36 Rafale jets, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has invited French President Francois Hollande as chief guest for the upcoming Republic Day. 
In April, Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited France with the announcement that his government would circumvent an earlier tender to purchase the Rafale jets which could cost India more than $5 billion.   
Since the announcement of the purchase, negotiators from both countries have been involved in talks over reducing the cost of the deal via a compensatory agreement—the seller of the product agreeing to purchase another product from the buyer to balance the exchange. 
France could invest half of the total cost of the Rafale jets into India to assist in ‘Make in India’ initiative of the Modi government, officials have said. Earlier criticism about the negotiation that Modi jettisoned his own domestic manufacturing drive with the purchase of the French jets would be quelled temporarily with this agreement. 
Experts say that the invitation to Hollande would highlight the uniqueness of India’s strategic relationship with France—the only western nation who did not condemn India’s nuclear tests in 1998 and supplied key weapons to India during the Kargil War of 1999. 
Hollande will be the first French president to visit India twice in one term. The French President, who took the office in 2012, had visited New Delhi in February 2013. 
Modi and Hollande are expected to meet again in December in Paris on the sidelines of the UN’s climate change conference that the Indian Prime Minister wishes to attend. It is likely that Modi, who met Hollande in New York last month on the margins of UN General Assembly, will hand over the formal invite to Hollande on the initiation of the climate summit. 
Hollande isn’t the only representative who is considered for chief guest at the 2016 Republic day. Other leaders who are expected to be invited are British Prime Minister David Cameron, Bangladesh Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, and German Chancellor Angela Merkel. 

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