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Republic Day chief guest: Delhi reaches out to Boris Johnson

If Johnson confirms his availability and takes up the invitation, he will be sixth from the UK to be Republic Day chief guest.

Sources said that while Johnson’s in-person visit has been in the works for some time, this time, the outreach has happened at the political level. (Photo: AP)

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been approached through informal channels to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations in January 2021, The Indian Express has learnt.

Usually, the invitation for the celebrations and the confirmation are sealed by the end of November. But this year, with the Covid-19 pandemic disrupting diplomatic calendars, New Delhi has sent out feelers to Johnson to know if he is willing to travel to India in January.

But given the surge in Covid-19 cases in the UK since October, it could be difficult for the British PM to commit to an overseas travel engagement in less than two months from now. So while Delhi has sounded him out, it is keeping its fingers crossed.

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There is no official word yet from either the Indian or the British government on a possible visit by Johnson.

The protocol in such matters is that the invitation letter goes out only after ascertaining the availability of the foreign leader.

Sources said that while Johnson’s in-person visit has been in the works for some time, this time, the outreach has happened at the political level.

If Johnson confirms his availability and takes up the invitation, he will be 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, much 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 while dealing with the UK, Delhi will want to leverage its relationship with the EU— especially on economic ties.

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