Be my guest: The R-Day strategy   

Updated - November 17, 2021 03:04 am IST

Published - January 26, 2016 08:03 pm IST

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets French President Francois Hollande on his arrival at the 67th Republic Day parade at Rajpath in New Delhi on Tuesday.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi greets French President Francois Hollande on his arrival at the 67th Republic Day parade at Rajpath in New Delhi on Tuesday.

When India celebrated its first ever Republic Day in 1950, it was before an audience of just 3,000 people at the Irwin Stadium (later rechristened as the Dhyan Chand National Stadium). The idea of the parade was mooted by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru to raise the spirits of a nation that had just undergone a violent partition. To make things more interesting, it was decided at the time of celebration a distinguished personality would attend the ceremony and in turn become a lifelong friend of India.

The first Republic Day celebration underwent careful planning with Indira Gandhi personally overseeing preparations. On the expected day, President Sukarno of Indonesia arrived as the chief guest and generated considerable excitement. The resounding success of the event just convinced everyone to continue with the same format. Ever since, a number of dignitaries such as Queen Elizabeth II, President Barack Obama, Nepal’s monarchs, President Jacques Chirac of France, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia and President Vladimir Putin of Russia have gone on to add themselves to the list of chief guests at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi.

A look at which countries' heads or important ministers have been invited from Jan. 26, 1950 to witness the R-Day Parade alongside our Prime Minister and President.

Note: Former countries like Soviet Union and Yugoslavia have not been included

Former External Affairs Minister Natwar Singh, who was present at the first Republic Day celebration remembers how the celebration shaped over the years. “It’s a unique honour which is however not reciprocated to the Indian leaders as other major countries do not have a similar tradition of inviting guests over for their celebrations,” Mr. Singh told The Hindu .  He was present in the first celebration of 1950 as a student but later on attended it in ministerial capacity (he was Minister for External Affairs between 2004 and 2005). He said an elaborate discussion takes place inside the government about who can be invited as the chief guest.

Usually, the guests agree easily to grace the occasion unless otherwise occupied. But the preparation can run into trouble in case a guest cancels the trip to Delhi at the last moment. That is why it is always a high tension task to ensure that the designated Chief Guest arrives in Delhi on time for the Republic Day celebration. Some years ago, Sultan Qaboos bin-Said al Said of Oman was invited but he cancelled his plan at the eleventh hour creating a flutter. At the last moment, the Bhutanese ruler King Jigme Khesar Wangchuk Namgyal travelled to New Delhi and saved the government from embarrassment.

This time around, there were no such hiccups with >President Hollande arriving with his delegates well in advance to discuss matters of diplomatic importance with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, before taking his seat at the saluting base on Rajpath.

France now holds the unique position of having its head of state being invited to the Republic Day parade in New Delhi five times, the most for any nation in the world. Bhutan, with four invites, stands in second place.

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