For the first time in 55 years, India is unlikely to have any chief guest for the Republic Day parade, The Indian Express has learnt.
New Delhi has come around to this decision, a day after British Prime Minister Boris Johnson on Tuesday called up Prime Minister Narendra Modi and expressed “regret” that he would not be able to visit India to be chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations. Johnson took this decision in view of the fresh national lockdown in his country, as it responds to the new, more contagious mutant strain of the novel coronavirus.
Sources said that it will be difficult to invite any foreign leader at a time when countries are still dealing with the pandemic. This is also too short a notice for any foreign leader to be invited. Also, it could be seen as an undiplomatic gesture to invite someone else, after a leader has refused to attend the celebrations.
In 1966, no invitations were sent out due to the demise of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri on January 11, 1966 in Tashkent. The new government headed by Indira Gandhi was sworn in on January 24, 1966 – only two days ahead of the Republic Day parade.
This year, Republic Day celebrations may be truncated on account of the pandemic. Last year’s Independence Day celebrations had been scaled down as well.
An invitation to be chief guest at India’s Republic Day is a special honour for the visiting foreign dignitary. New Delhi has been weaving strategy with hospitality while deciding on the chief guest. The choice is dictated by a number of factors — strategic and diplomatic, business interests, and geo-politics.
In the past, the Indian government had to look for an alternative guest, as the first choice could not make it. In 2013, Oman’s Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said could not come due to a communication issue, and Bhutan’s King Jigme Khesar Namgyal Wangchuk, came for the Republic Day. Similarly, in 2019, after US President Donald Trump could not come, India invited South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, who attended the Republic day celebrations.
But, this time, in view of the Covid-19 pandemic, that seems unlikely.