With COVID-19 on the rise, cloud over Republic Day visit of Central Asian leaders

Contingency plans to hold a summit with Prime Minister Modi virtually in Delhi this month being considered

With COVID-19 cases still on the rise 10 days ahead of the Republic Day, the government is considering putting off plans to invite the leaders of five Central Asian nations as the chief guests to the parade, and holding a summit with Prime Minister Narendra Modi virtually in Delhi this month. The contingency plans and a number of options to reduce the size of the Republic Day parade and audience were discussed at a meeting chaired by Mr. Modi on Saturday.

According to officials involved in the planning of January 26 events, a proposal has been sent to the five leaders of Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan to attend a videoconference summit, in case there is no let-up in the pandemic situation. At present, say officials, the cases in the current wave are likely to peak at the end of January which prompted the review as the foreign dignitaries had confirmed their attendance last month.

The Kazakhstan President’s visit was already under some question given the unrest in the capital Nur Sultan earlier this month that was brought under control with the help of Russian troops, after which President Kassym-Jomart Tokayev appointed a new government. However, when asked, diplomats from the countries said preparations for the visits were still very much in place.

Discussions on truncating parade route

Mr. Modi chaired a meeting on the Republic Day arrangements on Saturday where discussions on truncating the parade route and reducing the number of invitees further down from the arrangements last year were included. According to reports earlier this week, which officials confirmed, the parade will be restricted mainly to officials, diplomats and journalists and the government has decided to disallow invitations to those below 15 years given vaccinations don’t yet cover them.

Among the decisions taken was an announcement that the official celebrations would begin from this year onwards from January 23 instead of January 24 to include the birth anniversary of Subhash Chandra Bose which has been named “Parakram Divas”. Government sources said in a message the decision was in line with the “Modi government’s focus on celebrating/commemorating important aspects of history and culture”.

Besides Mr. Tokayev, Presidents Sadyr Japarov (Kyrgyzstan), Emomali Rahmon (Tajikistan), Gurbanguly Berdimuhamedov (Turkmenistan) and Shavkat Mirziyoyev (Uzbekistan) are due to attend the India-Central Asia Summit with PM Modi on January 25 in Delhi.

At the India-Central Asia Foreign Ministers convened by Minister of External Affairs (MEA) S. Jaishankar in December, several initiatives for increasing connectivity, trade and regional cooperation had been finalised. Speculation has been growing on the plans for the Republic Day as the (MEA) has not yet formally announced the visit by the five leaders, though Turkmenistan Foreign Minister Rashid Meredov had referred to the “upcoming Central Asia-India Summit in January” during his Delhi visit last month.

Officials said if the contingency proposal goes into effect, the summit would be held as scheduled but via video conference instead, as several others have been since the global pandemic first broke out in early 2020. In 2021, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson had to cancel his attendance as the Republic Day chief guest and the India-U.K. summit was held subsequently via video conference in May.

Officials have also had to take into account progress on the Central Vista project while deciding on the route and the number of stands that can be accommodated around the areas down Rajpath still under construction and renovation. A source associated with the project said while there was some delay in the Republic Day parade arrangements and in the work at the traffic junctions, it was not a “major” delay.

(With inputs from Damini Nath)

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