Republic Day guests and their importance | The Financial Express

Republic Day guests and their importance

Since 1950, India has been hosting the head of state or government of another country as the state guest of honor for Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi.

Abdeh fatah al Sisi
This year’s Chief Guest is President Abdeh fatah al Sisi of Egypt who becomes the Chief Guest after a 2-year pandemic induced hiatus. (Photo source: IE)

By (Mrs) Amb Narinder Chauhan

India’s Republic Day parade will be special this week as the 180-member military contingent from Egypt joins the ceremonial parade that will march on Kartavya Path towards the statue of Netaji, an important first on India @75.

Since 1950, India has been hosting the head of state or government of another country as the state guest of honor for Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi. During 1950-54, Republic Day was organized at different venues like Red Fort and Ramlila Maidan. It was only starting 1955 when the parade in its present form was organized at Rajpath, now Kartavya Path. The VIP seats along the parade route this year will go to the workers and their families as a mark of thanks for their hard work in refurbishing Rajpath, renamed as Kartavya Path.

The guest country is chosen after a deliberation of strategic, economic, and political interests. The visit reflects both India’s foreign policy priorities and the way the world has seen it over the decades. During the 1950s-1970s, several Non-Aligned Movement (NAM) and Eastern bloc countries were hosted by India. The first Chief Guest in 1950 was President Sukarno of Indonesia, one of five founding members of the NAM (alongside Nasser, Nkrumah, Tito, and Nehru). In 1968 and 1974, India played host to two countries on the same Republic Day:  Josip Broz Tito of Yugoslavia and Alexei Kosygin of Soviet Union in 1968; Tito again and Sirimavo Bandaranaike of Sri Lanka in 1974. The ASEAN leaders collectively graced the occasion in 2018. By region, India has hosted East and Southeast Asia 20 times; South and Central Asia 13 times, West Europe, and North America 17 times; Sub Saharan Africa 15 times; East Europe 8 times; West Asia North Africa 5 times.  

This year’s Chief Guest is President Abdeh fatah al Sisi of Egypt who becomes the Chief Guest after a 2-year pandemic induced hiatus. The invitation to him invokes the history of the NAM and the close relations both have shared for 75 years.  India perceives Egypt as a key player in the Arab world and Africa and a major gateway to markets in Africa and Europe. India enjoys a multifaceted relationship with this important country based on shared cultural values, commitment to foster economic growth, collaboration in the fields of defense and security and convergence on regional and global issues.

Chief Guests from the Arab world in the past have included Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria in 2001, King Abdullah Bin Abdul Aziz al Saud of Saudi Arabia in 2006, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Mohd bin Zayed Al Nahyan in 2017. Notable Chief Guests from Africa have included Julius Nyerere of Tanzania in 1971, Kenneth Kaunda of Zambia in 1975, Shehu Shagari of Nigeria in 1983, Nelson Mandela of South Africa in 1995, Obasanjo of Nigeria again in 2000, Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa again in 2019.

President Sisi will be the first Egyptian leader to grace the occasion. Though a ceremonial honor, its significance rises beyond ceremonial, opens new possibilities, and goes a long way in furthering India’s interests in the world. Though like any other state visit by a foreign dignitary, given the grandiosity and importance of the ceremony involved for India, it is the highest honour that the country accords to a guest in terms of protocol. He becomes the center of many ceremonial activities:  President Sisi will receive the ceremonial guard of honor at Rashtrapati Bhavan on 25 January, followed by a state banquet at Rashtrapati Bhavan in the evening, preceded by a wreath laying ceremony at Rajghat. Delegation level talks with PM Modi and luncheon hosted by PM will be followed by calls by the Vice President and External Affairs Minister.

Accompanied by a high-level delegation including 5 ministers and senior officials, the three-day visit of President Sisi is expected to deepen the ‘time-tested relationship’ that will include wide ranging talks with PM Modi on January 25, encompassing all issues of bilateral, regional, and international importance. Egypt is a new member of the SCO which India currently chairs. Egypt has also been invited as a ‘guest country’ along with its friend UAE during India’s current Presidency of G20; Saudi Arabia is already a member. The three Arab countries enjoy brotherly ties. Egypt as the host of COP 27 followed by UAE as the host of next COP28 has its own significance as India becomes the voice of the Global South.  Even as Egypt emerges as a major player in the Mediterranean, Red Sea, and the Horn of Africa, maritime connectivity with these three countries assumes its own salience including security of the sea lanes.

 As in all state visits, there will be meaningful interaction with the business community organized by the apex chambers of commerce of India. Both the leaders are expected to ink around half a dozen agreements in the areas of agriculture, cyberspace, and IT. Trade is balanced at over US$ 7b with an agreed target of 12b by 2027; more than 50 Indian companies are invested in Egypt including chemicals, energy, textiles, garment, agriculture, and retail. The Suez Canal straddled by Egypt and its special economic zone enterprise has always been of strategic significance for the Indian navy, and Indian commercial entities investing multi billion dollars in green hydrogen enterprises.

Further ramping up of defense and security cooperation is a major focus area during the visit. Egypt has shown interest in procuring India designed and manufactured Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) and Dhruv Advanced Light Helicopter and Aakash surface to air missile. Both sides have enhanced training, joint exercises and ship visits, and an MOU on defence cooperation was signed during a recent visit by Defence Minister Rajnath Singh. Egypt has also invited India to the Bright Star tri services exercise in September this year. Special Forces of the Indian and Egyptian armies have already held ‘Exercise Cyclone’ this week in Rajasthan.

Egypt is an influential member of both the Arab League and the African Union, though currently mired in its own economic difficulties.  Long known for its ancient civilization, Egypt is the largest Arab country and has played a central role in Middle Eastern politics in modern times. In the 1950s, President Nasser pioneered Arab nationalism and the non-aligned movement, while his successor Anwar Sadat made peace with Israel and turned back to the West. The invitation is part of India’s efforts to reset ties with Egypt and through it further strengthen relations with the rest of the Arab world. Egypt is also an influential member of the African Union; President Sisi visited India in 2015 for the third India Africa Forum Summit (IAFS) within 3 months of PM Modi’s visit to Cairo, followed by a state visit in September 2016. Enjoying deep-rooted people to people ties, India and Egypt are celebrating 75 years of establishment of diplomatic relations. The occasion is rich in symbolism as it portrays the Chief Guest as participating in India’s pride and happiness, a powerful tool laden with greater political and diplomatic significance as well.

Author is former Indian Ambassador. 

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First published on: 25-01-2023 at 10:51 IST