R-Day Unlikely to Have a Chief Guest – It’s Happened Thrice Before

There have been three times in Indian history that the R-Day Parade did not have a Chief Guest - 1952, 1953, 1966.

2 min read
India celebrates its 71st Republic Day on Sunday, 26 January.

The Republic Day Parade in India this year is likely to have no chief guest, The Indian Express reported, quoting sources.

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was invited to the event but declined to come due to the new strain of coronavirus in his country that has led to a second phase of lockdown.

Missing Chief Guest Not a First

If indeed there is to be no Chief Guest this year, this would not be a first. There have been three times in Indian history that the Republic Day Parade did not have a Chief Guest -- 1952, 1953 and 1966.

In 1966, there was no invitation extended due to the death of the then prime minister Lal Bahadur Shastri. The new government headed by Indira Gandhi was sworn in just two days before Republic Day.

Too Short Notice for Another Leader?

There was an option before the government to invite a new guest after Johnson declined on Tuesday, 5 January. However, officials said that it is too short a notice to invite another leader.

Sources told The Indian Express that it could also be seen as an undiplomatic gesture to invite someone else, after a leader has refused to attend the celebrations.

The Indian government has always used a mix of diplomacy, business and geopolitics to extend these invitations.

Invitations to New Guests

There have been occasions in the past where the government has had to look for new guests for the Republic Day event.

In 2012, the Manmohan Singh government had approached the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, to be the chief guest at the 2013 Republic Day Parade.

A confirmation had been received from Oman for formal invitation. However, Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said later declined to be the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade.

After that, the external affairs ministry worked with the Bhutan government to invite King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to be the chief guest at the Republic Day Parade.

The formal invitation was extended by the then external affairs minister Salman Khurshid who visited Bhutan just two weeks ahead of the Republic Day in 2013.

For the 2019 Republic Day Parade, US President Donald Trump was the first choice for chief guest.

The external affairs ministry had approached the US government in the second half of 2018, and it seemed like the Trump administration had agreed. However, a statement was made later saying that Trump would not be able to attend the Parade.

However, no "formal invitation" was sent to Trump. Later, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa attended the Parade as chief guest.

There have also been four occasions in the past when India invited two or more guests at the Republic Day Parade – two each in 1956, 1968 and 1974, and 10 head of states from the ASEAN countries in 2018.

A dignitary from Pakistan was also the Chief Guest on two occasions. Malik Ghulam Mohammed, the then Governor General of Pakistan, was invited in 1955. In 1965, Rana Abdul Hamid, who was then agriculture minister of Pakistan, attended the Parade.

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