No Central Asian chief guests at this year’s Republic Day celebrations

No Central Asian chief guests at this year’s Republic Day celebrations

MEA announces India-Central Asia summit to be held virtually

Prime Minister Narendra Modi will host a meeting with five Central Asian leaders virtually next week, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced on Wednesday, formally indicating that they will not travel to Delhi, as planned, as chief guests at the Republic Day celebrations.

An official also confirmed that there will be no foreign dignitary as chief guest during the events around January 26.

The MEA had not officially confirmed their presence, but sources said the Presidents of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan had in December accepted an invitation to jointly attend the parade and Republic Day reception.

They were due to also participate in the first India-Central Asia summit meeting during their visit to Delhi.

The Hindu had reported last week that the decision not to have any foreign dignitary as a chief guest was among a series of decisions to downsize Republic Day parade events, given the rising Coronavirus cases and estimates that the present wave would reach a peak in the last week of January.

Sources said proposals to this effect had been sent out to Presidents Kassym-Jomart Tokayev (Kazakhstan), Sadyr Japarov (Kyrgyzstan), Emomali Rahmon (Tajikistan), Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (Turkmenistan) and Shavkat Mirziyoyev (Uzbekistan), suggesting changing the summit to the virtual format.

The size of the marching contingents at Republic Day is down by about a third this year and the route taken by them has also been reduced to a few kilometres from Vijay Chowk to National Stadium, and the size of the audience is down from the usual 1.5 lakh to only about 5,000 special invitees including officials and diplomats this year. Mr. Modi had chaired a meeting on Saturday to decide on the options and proposals.

Announcing that the summit would be held via videoconference, the MEA called the India-Central Asia leaders’ meeting a “reflection of India’s growing engagement with Central Asian countries”, which will follow meetings of the National Security Advisor Ajit Doval with his counterparts in November to discuss Afghanistan, and the India-Central Asia dialogue hosted by External Affairs Minister S. Jaishankar in December.

“During the first India-Central Asia Summit, the leaders are expected to discuss steps to take forward India-Central Asia relations to newer heights. They are also expected to exchange views on regional and international issues of interest, especially the evolving regional security situation,” the statement issued by the MEA said.

“The summit is symbolic of the importance attached by the leaders of India and the Central Asian countries to a comprehensive and enduring India-Central Asia partnership,” it added.

No guest for the second time in a row

This is the second year in a row the government has had to cancel invitations to chief guests due to the COVID-19 pandemic after U.K. Prime Minister Boris Johnson was unable to attend the celebrations in 2021.

Last year, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled his visit to attend the Republic Day parade as the Chief Guest due to rising COVID-19 cases in his country.

In 1966 when no Chief Guest was present at the event which was held days after the demise of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri in Tashkent and the death of nuclear scientist Homi Bhabha in an air crash.

Foreign leaders have graced the Republic Day parades every year barring 1952, 1953 and 1966. The then Indonesian President Sukarno was the first chief guest to grace Republic Day in 1950.

In 2020, Brazil President Jair Bolsonaro was the chief guest.

In 2018, the entire Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) leadership comprising 10 heads of states were present at the Republic Day parade.

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