New Delhi: US president Donald Trump has turned down India’s invitation to be the chief guest at the 70th Republic Day celebrations in January, news reports said Sunday.
Officially though, neither the Indian foreign ministry nor the US embassy have said anything on the matter. When asked, the US embassy in Delhi said only the White House could comment on the president’s travel plans.
Speculation has been rife in India since July that Trump could accept India’s invite to be the chief guest at the event in January. In August, White House press secretary Sarah Sanders had confirmed Trump received an invite to visit India. “I know that the invitation has been extended, but I do not believe that a final decision has been made," media reports in India quoted Sanders as telling US based reporters.
But with a crowded domestic calendar — mid-term elections in November and the State of the Union address between 21 and 29 January besides some international commitments — Trump’s visit to India in January was seen as difficult to pin down, according to officials.
Mint had reported earlier this month that given Trump’s domestic pre-occupations, he was unlikely to make it for the Republic Day parade in January.
If Trump had made it, he would have been only the second US president to be invited by New Delhi to be the chief guest for the event since India became an independent country in 1947. It would have sought to underline how far India-US relations have evolved from the days of intense acrimony in the 1970s – when India was seen as close to then Soviet Union and the US closer to India’s arch rival Pakistan -- to strategic partners in the 21st century.
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.
Former US president Barack Obama came to India twice – his second visit was for Republic Day celebrations in 2015.
Trump declining India’s invitation to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations comes at a time when India and the US are engaged in a number of delicate negotiations – from waivers on sanctions that can be imposed on India for buying oil from Iran and the S-400 air defence system from Russia to a special trade package.