India is exploring the possibility of inviting the top leaders of the central Asian countries to grace the upcoming Republic Day celebrations, a move that comes in the backdrop of New Delhi's rapidly expanding ties with the region.
People familiar with the developments said on Sunday that the option of inviting the leaders of Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyz Republic and Tajikistan as chief guests is being pursued. At the same time, they said there is no finality on the guest list yet while not ruling out other options as well.
As a grouping, India had invited leaders of 10-nation influential regional bloc ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) for the Republic Day celebrations in 2018 and all of them attended it. In the last few years, India has been focusing on enhancing overall cooperation with the energy-rich Central Asian countries, considering them to be part of its extended neighbourhood.
The upswing in India's engagement with the region followed Prime Minister Narendra Modi's whirlwind tour of the five countries in July 2015 that resulted in the expansion of two-way ties in a range of areas. The recent developments in Afghanistan also reinforced the importance of the Central Asian countries with three of them - Tajikistan, Turkmenistan and Uzbekistan - sharing borders with the war-torn nation.
The national security advisors of all the five Central Asian countries attended an India-hosted regional dialogue on Afghanistan on November 10. The NSAs of Russia and Iran also participated in it. India did not have a Republic Day chief guest this year. It had invited British Prime Minister Boris Johnson as the Republic Day chief guest and he accepted had the invitation. However, three weeks ahead of the event, Johnson cancelled the visit to New Delhi following a surge in COVID-19 cases in the UK.
Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro was the chief guest at Republic Day celebrations in 2020 and he was the third President from Brazil to have graced the occasion. In 2019, South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was the chief guest at the R-Day parade while in 2018, leaders of ASEAN countries attended the celebrations.
In 2017, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan was the chief guest at the celebrations, while the then French president Francois Hollande graced the occasion in 2016. In 2015, the then US president Barack Obama was the chief guest.
-With PTI Inputs