US president Donald Trump. Photo: AFP
US president Donald Trump. Photo: AFP

Trump may not attend India’s Republic Day parade in January

Should Trump make it, he will be the second US president to be invited by India to be the chief guest on Republic Day

New Delhi: US President Donald Trump, whom India has invited to be the chief guest of its 70th Republic Day in January 2019, may not be able to make it.

This is because of a crowded domestic calendar with officials working to pin down the schedule pointing to Trump’s preoccupations with the mid-term elections in November and then the State of the Union address between 21 and 29 January. There are some international commitments as well. All this, say the officials, makes a Trump presidential visit in January for Republic Day seem far fetched at this point.

An invitation for Trump to visit India was extended when Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited Washington in June last year. It was subsequently converted into an invite for Republic Day 2019 earlier this year.

Should Trump make it, he will be only the second US president to be invited by New Delhi to be the chief guest for the event—the centrepiece of which is a grand military parade in the heart of New Delhi.

Guests for Republic Day are chosen from countries that are strategically important to India, according to analysts. In the past, the guests have included heads of state or government from India’s immediate neighbourhood, permanent members of the UN Security Council like France and leaders from the developing world like Indonesia and Brazil.

But with the battle lines drawn between Trump and the Democrats over Russian interference in the 2016 US Presidential elections, Trump is unlikely to focus on anything other than the mid-term polls on 6 November for now.

The mid-term elections will see the Republicans and Democrats face off against each other for each of the 435 US House of Representatives’ seats and 34 of the 100 Senate seats. Republicans are currently in a majority in both and hope to maintain it. The stakes for Trump are high since a Democratic victory in either chamber would give the party the power to open investigations into various aspects of his administration and challenge or upset his agenda for the remaining two years of his current term, said two people familiar with the matter.

The speaker of the House of Representatives Paul Ryan is not standing for re-election which means once the House members get elected, a new speaker needs to be named who will then set the date for the annual State of the Union address, one of the people cited above said. The State of the Union address is a key note speech by the president to Congress in which he sets out his agenda for the next year and spotlights his achievements.

“The State of the Union speech is generally scheduled anywhere between 21 to 29 January," said the person cited above pointing to the difficulties in pinning down dates for the presidential visit.

Over the weekend, Alice Wells, the principal deputy assistant secretary for South and Central Asia was quoted as saying that she was “certain that President Trump looks forward to being able to visit India at an appropriate time"—without committing to the 26 January visit.

New Delhi, on its part, seems to be keeping the door ajar for a Trump visit while thinking of alternative guests for its 2019 Republic Day chief guest.

Former president Barack Obama was the chief guest in January 2015. The 2015 visit was Obama’s second to India and he also has the distinction of being the only US president to visit India in his first and second terms in office.

The 2015 Obama trip was also seen as a turning point in India-US ties as it signalled that New Delhi for long a supporter of the non-aligned movement and seen on the side of the erstwhile Soviet Union and also close to its successor state, Russia, was no longer shy about embracing the US in public. By 2015, the India-US relations had warmed considerably with four US presidential visits since the year 2000, more than the number of visits made in the decades between 1947-2000.