After Donald Trump’s refusal, India looks for Republic Day guest

After Donald Trump’s refusal, India looks for Republic Day guest

United States President Donald Trump is unable to attend the Republic Day parade on Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation because of “scheduling constraints”, the White House has said, but stressed the “strong personal rapport” shared by them.

The White House did not elaborate on the constraints but the Republic Day parade on January 26 is around the time when US presidents present their annual report to Congress, the State of the Union address, which is a statement of achievements of the last year and plans for the next.

Barack Obama, who became the first US president to attend the Republic Day parade as the chief guest in 2015, had moved his address up to January 20 from the usual end-of-month slot he favoured.

“President Trump was honoured by Prime Minister Modi’s invitation for him to be Chief Guest of India’s Republic Day on January 26, 2019, but is unable to participate due to scheduling constraints,” a White House spokesperson said in a statement on Monday.

The spokesperson also pointed to the personal rapport shared by Trump and Modi. “The President enjoys a strong personal rapport with Prime Minister Modi developed through two meetings and several phone calls, and remains committed to deepening the US-India strategic partnership,” the spokesperson said. “The President very much looks forward to meeting PM Modi again at the earliest opportunity.”

In New Delhi, officials said a shortlist of heads of state and government was being considered by the government to choose a chief guest for the parade.

The officials were reluctant to provide details in view of the attention attracted by the invitation to Trump. Obama’s participation in the parade was seen as a diplomatic victory for India. Trump appeared enthusiastic to the Bastille Day military parade he had witnessed in Paris in 2017.

Trump returned from Paris inspired enough to order his administration to hold a similar parade in the US, overruling sceptics and critics that included the US military. The move has since been mired in concerns over costs and logistics, and, most notably, a striking lack of support and enthusiasm from others.

The Indian invitation to Trump was never made public. “A quiet pre-invitation ensures neither party — especially the host — is embarrassed and feels snubbed if the visit is not likely to work out,” a former White House official involved with several presidential visits said on background.

A public announcement follows months of routine comments (such as “We have nothing to announce”) to media queries, the former official added. But as word about routine preliminary exchanges between the two governments leaked, the White House was compelled in July to confirm receiving an invitation.

Modi and Trump met first in June 2017 at the White House. The half-day of engagements included an extended one-on-one meeting, followed by talks where they were joined by aides.

The world noted they had hugged. First Lady Melania Trump held a reception for the Indian delegation later. Their next meet was on the sidelines of the Asean Summit in Manila in November 2017. There was a shorter encounter in July 2017 during G20 Summit in Hamburg. Modi was among the first world leaders to congratulate Trump in November 2016, after his stunning victory in the elections.

First Published: Oct 30, 2018 23:03 IST