No foreign leader as R-Day chief guest this year: Report
India will reportedly not have a chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations this year. People familiar with the matter have told Hindustan Times that India has decided against inviting a foreign leader for its 72nd Republic Day on January 26, 2021. The development comes after United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled his plans to visit India at the last minute.
'Didn't want to put any foreign dignitary in awkward situation'
Elaborating on the decision to not invite any foreign leader, an official told HT, "We did not want to put any foreign dignitary in an awkward situation." Earlier, India had invited Johnson, and while the latter had accepted the invite, he had to cancel his plans due to COVID-19. This year, President Ram Nath Kovind will take the salute at the parade.
India didn't have chief guest on R-Day last in 1966
The last time India did not have a chief guest on Republic Day was in 1966 when Indira Gandhi was sworn-in as Prime Minister on January 24, weeks after the death of PM Lal Bahadur Shastri. The parade also did not have a chief guest in 1952 and 1953. Earlier, News18 had reported that Suriname President Chandrikapersad Santokhi would be this year's chief guest.
How will COVID-19 impact this year's event?
Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, other changes are expected during this year's Republic Day celebrations. The parade—which showcases India's military might and cultural diversity—will be shorter this time. Marching contingents will have 96 participants in each squad, instead of 144. The number of spectators will be reduced to 25,000 from over one lakh, while children below 15 will not be permitted to attend.
How bad is the outbreak in India?
The pace of the outbreak has slowed down considerably since hitting a peak in September 2020. India has reported 1,04,66,595 COVID-19 cases, according to the Union Health Ministry's latest tally on Monday morning, with 16,311 new infections over a 24-hour period. The total cases include 2,22,526 active cases, 1,00,92,909 recoveries, and 1,51,160 deaths. India remains the world's second worst-hit country after the United States.