British Prime Minister Boris Johnson will be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in January 2021, British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab confirmed. Raab made the announcement after his meeting with External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar on Tuesday. He came to India on a bilateral visit on Monday night.
Stating that the presence of Boris Johnson during the Republic Day celebrations is “symbolic of a new phase between India and UK,’ External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar said, “I’m pleased that PM Boris Johnson has invited PM Modi to join the UK-hosted G7 summit next year. UK PM Johnson has also accepted the very generous invitation to attend India’s Republic Day celebrations in January, which is a great honour. The presence of PM Boris Johnson as the chief guest at Republic Day 2021 would be in a way symbolic of a new era, a new phase of our relationship.”
Johnson is the sixth from the UK to be Republic Day chief guest. He will also be the first British PM since John Major in 1993 to be chief guest at the celebrations. In the past, members of the British royalty have been chief guests — Prince Philip in 1959 and Queen Elizabeth II in 1961. British chancellor of exchequer Rap Butler (1956, along with Japan’s former chief justice Kotaro Tanaka) and then Chief of Defence Staff Lord Louis Mountbatten (1964) have also been chief guests in the past.
This time, however, India may have a truncated version of the Republic Day celebrations due to the pandemic, like the scaled-down version of Independence Day celebrations on August 15.
An invitation to be Republic Day chief guest is symbolic from the Indian government’s perspective. New Delhi has been weaving strategy with hospitality to decide its chief guest. Every year, the choice is dictated by a number of factors — strategic and diplomatic, business interests and geo-politics.
The choice of the UK is interesting since ties with post-Brexit UK will be tested on multiple fronts — economic, people-to-people, political and strategic levels. Both sides will be keen to engage with each other, and Delhi will want to leverage its relationship with the EU, while dealing with the UK — especially on economic ties.
Raab, who is one of the few foreign ministers to visit India during the COVID-19 pandemic, will also travel to Bangalore. He will be in India from December 14 to 17. He will also have official meetings with the Minister of Environment, Forests and Climate Change, Prakash Javadekar, and the Minister of Education, Ramesh Pokhriyal.
The Ministry of External Affairs said that Raab’s visit will “pave the way for further strengthening of the partnership across trade, defence, climate, migration and mobility, education, and health sectors in the post-Covid, post-Brexit context”.
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