26 of January is a special day for India as it is the birthday of our Constitution and the day is celebrated as Republic day. The Republic Day parade at the capital is of special importance which showcases the Indian military's might and culture. As history shows, there is the presence of, at least, one foreign dignitary as the chief guest in that day's function.
There is a difference between a foreign dignitary visiting India on any other day of the year and a foreign dignitary's presence on the Republic day as the chief guest. When a foreign dignitary is in India on this day, it is, possibly, because he needs to be convinced that India is a place of absolute trust and a fertile land for investment. Republic day is not only day for our democratic pride but also a milestone in handling of our foriegn affairs.
In the 1950s, the Republic Day chief guest usually came from the NAM group and other Asian countries of Nepal and Bhutan. The reason for calling them was to give them a glimpse of what a newly independent India had been fast achieving. When tensions between India and the communists China erupted, in the 1959 Republic day function, General Ye Jainying found his place on the chief guest chair. It is said that in the 1960s when the Congress government was tilting towards the Soviet Bloc to counter excessive American presence in Pakistan, it became necessary to show a glimpse of India to Russia and its allies. Thus, the 1960s saw the USSR-allies in the Republic day chief guest's chair.
The 1970s and 1980s was a period when India was starting to play a big game in the world policy rather than just being a regional player. To achieve this, engagement with other nations was of paramount importance. To start an engagement, invitation as Republic Day chief guest would be the best way. Thus, those two decades saw dignitaries from Latin American, African nations, European nations in much frequency.
Post-1991, was the period marked by liberal policies framed by PV Narshimha Rao government. Therefore, the foreign policy of India was rewritten, wherein India eyed financial ties along with strategic ties. This affected the choice of the chief guest in the Republic day function of those years.
Post-2000, the Republic day chief guest indicated the geopolitical needs of India. The increase in demand for petroleum made Iranian President Mohammed Khatani, Saudi Arabian ruler King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud, Russian President Vladimir Putin the chief guest of the Republic Day in the years 2003, 2006 and 2007 respectively.
President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Uranium rich-Kazakhstan was the chief guest in 2009, the year marked by nuclear deal program finalised by the then PM of India Dr. Manmohan Singh.
The foriegn policy of 'Look East' initiative was necessitated due to increase in Chinese might in ASEAN and other Asian countries. To take those countries along it was necessary to engage with them in a special way. So during the Republic Days of 2010 - 2014, we had dignitaries from South Korea, Indonesia, Thailand, Bhutan and Japan.
After Narendra Modi came to power this ceremonial-cum-diplomatic day was converted to a diplomatic-cum-ceremonial function. PM Modi took personal charge of the Republic Day.
The Republic Day of 2015 was more Obama day than Republic day. To have Obama on the table was necessary for the Modi government to fulfill the initiatives of Make in India and FDI inflows. Modi had to prove that US needs India and India needs US and the best day he got was to display that sentiment on the Republic day. From that visit US-India ties have strengthened considerably.
To raise India from the rung of a developing nation to that of a developed nation, as Modi has promised, engagement with European Union was very vital. French President Francois Hollande was seen on the Republic Day chief guest chair in the year 2016. The purpose of calling him was, first, to give impetus to the Rafle Fighter aircraft deal which was lagging for years. Second, to deepen ties with an EU nation for boosting FDI and the third purpose would be to discuss Paris Climate accord.
The 2017 invitee Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed al Nahyan, the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi, was seen as a complete reset of India's relationship with the Gulf.
2018 is a bit special for the Republic Day diplomacy as there is an invitation not to one but 10 leaders of ASEAN countries. PM Modi has changed the name from look east policy to act east policy. Though ASEAN is one of the strongest multi-nation group, the Chinese and American aggression may hamper the geo-politics of the region. The table below is a reality check for PM Modi's success of act east policy:
Trade figures in Million dollars
2013 - 2014
2016 - 2017
*means average figure
Except for the Philippines and Cambodia, there has been a significant reduction in bilateral trade with other nations. This reality check must be the reason that PM Modi extended invitations to all the ASEAN leaders and bring his ACT EAST policy into reality.
PM Modi wants India to be a Vishwa Guru. And for that, we need all possible support in the world that we can have.
Republic day is a day for Indian diplomacy no doubt, and every prime minister should take the primary responsibility to imbibe the importance of this day to his citizens.
Happy Republic Day!
(Disclaimer: The opinions expressed above are the personal views of the author and do not reflect the views of ZMCL)