Explained International

Republic Day Guests: Choice Becoming More Pragmatic

Republic Day Parade 2019 Guest Choice

India since the very first Republic Day in 1950 has been inviting the foreign dignitaries as the ‘guests of honour’ to the event. Since then, India has come a long way and seen heads of different countries participate at the annual event which not only shows India’s rising defence capabilities but also its rich cultural heritage.

After the change in dispensation in 2014, the tradition of inviting the guests has continued, but with slight change of not making random choices rather making smart choices. If the foreign dignitaries invited in  the last 5 years are to be seen, there appears to be a pattern where the choice of guests is in sync with India’s redefined foreign policy and the narrative that India wants to set across the world.

Here we attempt to decode the pattern.

2015 – Barack Obama, President, USA

After election of Narendra Modi as Prime Minister of India in 2014, there was a perception that India’s relations with United State of America (USA) may not continue to remain as strong as earlier because of USA’s Visa ban on PM Modi when he was the chief minister of government.

However, keeping the spirit of India First, the first guest to have been invited by the newly elected PM of India was the President of USA. This surprised many of his critics. India-USA relations have since then been on a different pitch altogether overcoming the ‘hesitations of history’. This was the first step in India’s redefined foreign policy of multi-alignment wherein India moved from not aligning with any global power to align with all the powers equally.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi redefined the contours of Indo-US relations as India became USA’s ‘major defence partner’ putting it under USA’s closest allies and partners.

2016 – Francois Hollande, President, France

When India invited the French President Francois Hollande in 2016, France a year back had faced the brunt of two deadliest terrorist attacks, one on its satirical journal Charlie Hebdo and another in its capital city Paris where 128 people were reportedly killed. All the nation condemned the attacks including India but India went a step ahead by inviting the French President to its Republic Day Parade showing its solidarity with France in fight towards terrorism across the world against which PM Modi has also run a campaign at all the international forums.

India’s increasing outreach to France including this republic day invite was a visionary step. With Brexit (Britain’s exit from EU) likely to happen, France and Germany were to get more voice in the European Union in which India can leverage both the countries to raise its issues. Interestingly, Germany was the place where Prime Minister Narendra Modi promoted the Make-in-India program at Hannover Messe, the world’s largest industrial fair. Thus, India was gradually becoming more pragmatic in choosing its allies and ways to strengthen the ties.

2017 – Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince, UAE

In India’s extended neighbourhood, a gulf country which is very important for India’s interests to not only diversify its portfolio of oil countries but also for its expatriate population, is United Arab Emirates (UAE). India invited the crown prince of UAE after Prime Minister Modi paid a visit to UAE in 34 years by an Indian PM. His visit to India has improved India’s standing in the Gulf region.

Upbeat with increasing bonhomie between two countries since PM Modi took over, India has received a huge $ 75 billion investment offer from UAE which it has already started operationalising. Further, due to astute diplomatic efforts by PM Modi, UAE government seized the assets of India’s most wanted underworld don Dawood Ibrahim worth Rs. 15000 crores. Not only this, UAE has recently extradited Christian Michel, an accused in the VVIP chopper ‘scam’, a remanant of the UPA era. Thus, India’s foreign policy has finally touched the realm of realism.

2018 – All the Heads of the ASEAN Countries

One of the most significant change in the foreign policy of India in recent times has been the shift from ‘Look East’ to ‘Act East’. As explained by us in one of our earlier articles, India has started building or getting access to ports in countries like Indonesia and Singapore among others. Thus, India has started increasing its presence in Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries to counter the effect of China in these countries.

It is in this spirit that India, to further strengthen its relations with these countries, invited leaders of all 10 countries of ASEAN for the Republic Day Parade of 2018. This invite was more practical as in one shot India had the leaders of all the ten-member nations of ASEAN on a single stage unlike earlier when each member country was invited separately. For India all the countries of ASEAN hold importance. More significantly, the grouping as a whole is all the more pertinent in current changing geo-strategic realities.

2019 – Cyril Ramaphosa, President, South Africa

South African President Cyril Ramaphosa is going to be the guest of honour at Republic Day Parade in 2019. This invite is in tune with India’s recent push towards the revival of IBSA grouping which comprises of India, Brazil and South Africa. This grouping symbolises the south-south cooperation among the three countries in the sense that they are the representative of developing countries sans China.

Not only this, India along with Japan in the pursuit of its Asia-Africa Growth strategy has also been reaching out to African nations and South Africa is one of the most important members of the continent.


In the last 5 years, foreign policy has been redefined from various perspectives and each and every avenue has been utilised to further India’s interests. The Republic Day Parade is one such platform which has been effectively deployed to reach out to the countries that fit well into the strategic calculus of India.