Defence Minister Rajnath Singh on Monday reached France’s capital city of Paris for a three-day visit during which he will receive the first of 36 Rafale fighter jets. He is also expected to hold discussions with his French counterpart Florence Parly, PTI reported.

“Delighted to be in France,” Singh tweeted after reaching Paris. “This great nation is India’s important strategic partner and our special relationship goes far beyond the realm of formal ties. My visit to France is aimed at expanding the existing strategic partnership between both the countries.”

Even though the Union minister will be officially handed over one of the 36 aircraft, the first batch of four jets will arrive in India only by May next year.

Singh will meet French President Emmanuel Macron in Paris on Tuesday, and he is likely to discuss matters related to defence and security relations between India and France, unidentified officials said. Later in the day, he will reach the port city of Bordeaux, where he will be given the first Rafale jet at a ceremony in a facility of manufacturer Dassault Aviation.

A ‘shastra puja’ [worship of weapons] will also be held as the Dussehra festival falls on Tuesday, as does India’s Air Force Day. Following this, the defence minister will take a sortie in the jet. Vice Chief Air Marshal HS Arora will accompany Singh as he receives the aircraft, Hindustan Times reported.

The first squadron of the Rafale jet, which can carry a wide-range of potent weaponry and missiles, will be at the Ambala Air Force Station. The air force has reportedly made preparations, including putting necessary infrastructure in place, to welcome the Rafale jets.

Singh will address the entrepreneurs of the French defence industry on Wednesday and is expected to encourage them to participate in the Make in India programme.

An inter-governmental agreement was signed between India and France in September 2016 to procure the 36 fighter jets worth Rs 59,000 crore. The deal was controversial ahead of the General Elections earlier this year because the Congress alleged wrongdoing and favouritism by the government.

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