US president Donald Trump has declined India’s invitation to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations. India, sources said, was informed about this several weeks ago. President Trump’s administration has said he has a “crowded agenda” and can’t be in India for the Republic Day.
In July, White House Press Secretary Sarah Huckabee Sanders had stated that President Trump had received an invitation to India but that no decision had been taken then. When asked about Trump’s decision on the pending invitation by Modi, a White House spokesperson told news agency PTI over phone, “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.”
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.
Mr Trump declining India’s invitation to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations comes weeks after India and the US had differences over a range of geopolitical issues. India’s insistence on buying oil from Iran despite US sanctions on the oil-producing nation did not go well with the Trump administration.
India and the US also had to navigate a complex issue of possible US sanctions after the Modi government decided to buy the Russian S-400 long-range missile system, which the US considers is within the scope of the Countering America’s Adversaries Through Sanctions Act.