Republic Day Chief Guest 2024

France steps in as India’s Republic Day special guest after the US cancels at the last minute causing a scramble in New Delhi

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‘WANTED’ read the sign in big bold black letters, with the word ‘URGENT’ underneath in bright red letters.

Posters bearing these desperate pleas adorned every vantage point in New Delhi, including the ornate gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan, India Gate and even the (new) Parliament House precicnt.

Did anyone expect the hundred plus suspended Opposition MPs, sitting on the front steps of the new complex enjoying a mimicry show, would go searching as part of their national duty?

Anyway who was this desperately wanted person?

Top-notch terrorist?

Financial fugitive who bolted, owing billions to the banks?

No, all that the Government urgently required was a chielf guest for Republic Day celebrations only a few weeks away.

This crisis was caused by the scheduled guest, Joe Biden, suddenly pulling out.  Although no reason was forthcoming for his last-minute let-down, social media keyboard warriors are citing the wars in Ukraine and Gaza (or perhaps the reason is more domestic, given US Presidential elections?)

But the conspiracy theorist in me suggests the job specification in small print on the invitation he belatedly read may have spiked his plan. It requires the chief guest to be on his feet for a few hours, taking salute of the marching squadrons. A big ask for ‘sleepy’ Joe with waddle walking style, so he dragged his feet. Then the task of thanking the host. With his failing memory for names he would probably address Modiji as ‘the guy from the Ganges plains.’ (Wonder whether ScoMo, ‘the chap from Down Under’, is still smarting from that intro).

Or, there could be some other underlying political issue. Politics these days touches all manner of issues, even sports shoes.

Faced with this crisis, an emergency committee comprising all burra sahibs like Chief Secretary, Deputy Secretary, Additional Secretary, Joint Secretary, etc. from various ministries was instituted, to try and find an international figure who won’t mind being a standby chief guest for the January 26 event, like a twelfth man or a drinks carrier in cricket.

Modi era mandarins, having no clue of who has been invited before as Republic Day chief guest, took recourse to the Internet (much like this writer). They found 77 VIPs since 1950, with  Indonesia’s Sukarno being the first. From 1950-70 during the Nehru era, the top echelons known as ‘Kashmir Mafia’ chose chief guests from non-aligned or East European countries aligned with Nehru’s socialist ideology.

The committee, to its utter horror, discovered that Pakistan’s Governor General was invited in 1955, seven years after that country occupied Kashmir. Its Food Minister did the honours in 1965. A few months later Pakistan started another war. (Some food for thought there.)

Not to be outdone, China’s People Liberation Army’s Marshal Jiyaning was the chief guest in 1958. Three years later he would send his army across the Himalayas, dealing a crushing blow. The choice of chief guest is made on strategic economic and political interests. Maybe the Marshal had different interests in mind.

So far, leaders of 77 nations have been given the honour – 36 from Asia, 25 from Europe, 12 from Africa, 5 each from UK and South America, 2 from North America, and one each from USA  and Australia. Some invitees from Asia, Africa and South America have had little regard for democratic rule in their own countries. Surprisingly, Canada – a democratic Commonwealth country – has never been invited. Now, Trudeau has truly torpedoed any chance in the near future.

Some notable chief guests include Queen Elizabeth (1961), Putin (2007), Obama (2015) and Australia’s Malcolm Fraser (1979).

Republic Day Special Guest 1979 Malcolm Fraser PM of Australia with Indira Gandhi
Republic Day Special Guest 1979 Malcolm Fraser PM of Australia with Indira Gandhi, PM of India. (Source: X / President Pranab Mukherjee)

Meanwhile, what’s this? A news flash – French President Emmanuel Macron has kindly agreed to step in. Perhaps the big order for Rafale fighters has done the trick.

Macron becomes the sixth French dignitary to grace the event, making his country the most welcomed Republic Day chief guest in India.

Merci, Monsieur Macron.

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