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India May Have No Chief Guest at R-Day Parade as Boris Johnson Cancels Visit Over Virus Situation in UK

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference in response to the ongoing situation with the coronavirus pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street, London on January 5, 2021. (REUTERS/Hannah McKay/Pool)

Britain's Prime Minister Boris Johnson speaks during a news conference in response to the ongoing situation with the coronavirus pandemic, inside 10 Downing Street, London on January 5, 2021. (REUTERS/Hannah McKay/Pool)

The UK prime minister's office stated that Boris Johnson spoke to Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and conveyed that "it was important for him to remain in the UK so that he can focus on the domestic response to the virus”.

Maha Siddiqui

In a rare exception after over 50 years, India may not have any chief guest at Republic Day celebrations on January 26 after British PM Boris Johnson cancelled his scheduled visit citing the need to oversee the pandemic response at home.

The UK prime minister's office stated that Boris Johnson spoke to Indian counterpart Narendra Modi and conveyed that "it was important for him to remain in the UK so that he can focus on the domestic response to the virus”.

“The two leaders underlined their shared commitment to the bilateral relationship, and to continuing to build on the close collaboration between our countries including in response to the pandemic,” a spokesperson said.

Johnson was due to be a guest at India's annual Republic Day celebrations on January 26, shortly after the UK left the European Union's single market and as it seeks new trade deals around the world, particularly in fast-growing Asia.

The statement from the Indian side said that PM Modi "expressed his understanding of the exceptional situation in the UK, and conveyed his best wishes for the quick control of the pandemic spread. He looked forward to receiving Prime Minister Johnson in India at the earliest opportunity after normalisation of the situation”.

Johnson has indicated that his India visit would take place during the first half of this year and before the G7 summit presided over by the UK, which Modi is scheduled to attend as a guest later this year.

Last month, the British government had announced Johnson's intention to visit India as part of efforts to speed up talks on trade, with Britain in search of new bilateral deals after leaving the European Union. But Britain's Covid-19 crisis has since worsened with surging cases and hospital admissions at a new high, fuelled by the spread of a more transmissible variant of the virus.

India celebrated Republic Day without a chief guest on three previous occasions -- 1952, 1953 and 1966. Five leaders and members of the royal family from the UK have attended Republic Day celebrations as chief guests starting with the Chancellor of the Exchequer Rab Butler in 1956, followed by Duke of Edinburgh Prince Philip in 1959, Queen Elizabeth II in 1961, Lord Louis Mountbatten in 1964 and PM John Major in 1993.


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