Top African leader on short­list for R­Day chief guest, de­ci­sion soon

Hindustan Times (Gurugram) - - Front Page - Shishir Gupta let­ters@hin­dus­tan­ ■

In­dia may have fi­nalised its chief guest for the next Repub­lic Day, two peo­ple fa­mil­iar with the mat­ter in­de­pen­dently said, and it is most likely some­one from Africa, per­haps South African Pres­i­dent Cyril Ramaphosa. The an­nounce­ment will prob­a­bly be made shortly by Prime Min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi him­self, and per­haps on Twit­ter, one of the peo­ple added, ask­ing not to be iden­ti­fied.

This per­son said there was a short­list of four In­dia was work­ing on and that Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump of the US had never been on it, al­though ver­bal, in­for­mal in­vites were ex­tended to him .The White House con­firmed re­cently that Pres­i­dent Trump would not be mak­ing the trip to In­dia for the Jan­uary 26 Repub­lic Day pa­rade on ac­count of other com­mit­ments, but the first per­son in­sisted that a for­mal in­vite had never been sent to the US leader.

The chief guest will be a leader of global stature and from an im­por­tant part­ner coun­try, this per­son added.

A sec­ond per­son said, also on con­di­tion of anonymity, that the idea was to get some­one from a re­gion un­rep­re­sented in terms of Repub­lic Day chief guests for the past few years. The chief guests in 2013, 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, and 2018 were King Jigme Kh­e­sar Nam­gyel Wangchuk of Bhutan, Prime Min­is­ter Shinzo Abe of Ja­pan, US Pres­i­dent Barack Obama, French Pres­i­dent Fran­cois Hol­lande, UAE Crown Prince Mo­hhamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, and the lead­ers of the 10 mem­bers of the As­so­ci­a­tion of South-East Asian Na­tions.

That leaves only South Amer­ica and Africa un­rep­re­sented. The sec­ond per­son said that the leader is most likely to be some­one from Africa, per­haps Ramaphosa.

There was no con­fir­ma­tion on this from the min­istry of ex­ter­nal af­fairs, and a gov­ern­ment of­fi­cial would only say that “an an­nounce­ment will be made at an ap­pro­pri­ate time.”

In­dia has been try­ing to build its pres­ence and re­la­tion­ship with African coun­tries. It has stepped up its out­reach to African coun­tries since the Na­tional Demo­cratic Al­liance (NDA) gov­ern­ment came to power in May 2014 to boost ties with the re­source-rich con­ti­nent and counter China’s grow­ing in­flu­ence there.

The 55 coun­tries on the con­ti­nent also have a cru­cial say in In­dia’s quest to be­come a per­ma­nent mem­ber of the UN Se­cu­rity Coun­cil. In­dia has ex­tended 152 lines of credit worth al­most $8 bil­lion to 44 African coun­tries for de­vel­op­ing agri­cul­ture, in­fra­struc­ture, pub­lic trans­port, clean en­ergy, ir­ri­gation and man­u­fac­tur­ing ca­pac­ity. The out­reach has in­cluded vis­its to sev­eral African states by Pres­i­dent Ram Nath Kovind and Vice Pres­i­dent M Venka­iah Naidu this year that raised the pro­file of bi­lat­eral ties.

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