The Indian foreign ministry on Thursday said that no foreign head of state or head of government will be present at the annual Republic Day parade this year as the chief guest, for the first time in decades. "Due to the global covid-19 situation, it has been decided that this year there will not be a foreign head of state or head of government as the chief guest for our Republic Day event," Foreign ministry spokesman Anurag Srivastava told reporters at the weekly foreign office briefing. It had been widely anticipated that India would go ahead with the annual Republic Day parade without a chief guest after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson – the dignitary invited this year – cancelled his planned visit to India to focus on countering a recent surge in Covid-19 infections in Britain.
The only other years when a foreign chief guest wasn’t present at the Republic Day parade were 1952, 1953 and 1966. The last time India did not have a chief guest at its Republic Day parade was in 1966. Then prime minister Indira Gandhi was sworn in on 24 January, days after the death of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri on 11 January. This year’s parade will also be shorter, involve fewer participants and only a fourth of the usual number of spectators will be allowed at Rajpath because of Covid-19-related restrictions. A 122-member tri-services contingent from Bangladesh will be part of the Republic Day parade, only the second time foreign troops have joined the annual showcase of military might and the country’s diverse culture. In 2016, a French contingent had participated in the parade. Bangladesh has been invited to participate in this year’s parade because the two countries are commemorating 50 years of diplomatic ties this year. The Bangladeshi tri-services contingent was flown into New Delhi on a C-17 heavy-lift aircraft of the Indian Air Force.