The Republic Day parade in New Delhi every Jan. 26 is uniquely Indian.
Each year, the government has invited a world leader as “chief guest” to witness a grand display of hard and soft power. Missiles and other military hardware co-exist with colourful floats celebrating regional heritage. Thousands of soldiers march in a procession that also includes mild-mannered public servants.
The choice of chief guest is carefully considered as it is meant as a statement on the country’s international orientation. The first invitee was Indonesian President Sukarno in 1950. Queen Elizabeth II attended in 1961, although a British prime minister wasn’t invited until 1993. Bhutan and France share the distinction of receiving the most invitations with four each. The president of the Soviet Union was invited twice and Russian President Vladimir Putin attended in 2007.
This year’s guest could be the most significant choice yet. Narendra Modi in December surprised the diplomatic establishment in New Delhi by extending his first invitation as Prime Minister to Barack Obama, who is the first U.S. president to get invited.
“It is a very big deal for both sides,” said W.P.S. Sidhu, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution in New Delhi. “This is very important symbolism.”
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