India makes its move, invites Boris Johnson to be Republic Day chief guest

UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson is expected to be chief guest at the 2021 Republic Day , and if he accepts an invitation from Prime Minister Narendra Modi it will make him the first British PM since John Major in 1993 to be guest of honour at the event.

Prime Minister Modi formally invited him to be Republic Day chief guest in a November 27 telephone conversation, HT learns. Johnson, on his part, invited PM Modi to the G-7 summit in the UK next year.

New Delhi is tight-lipped on the decision, but diplomats say that it is a well-thought-out strategy by PM Modi to invite his UK counterpart as a hard Brexit looms on the horizon and London wonders about its special relationship with Washington under the incoming administration of President-elect Joe Biden.

In a November 27 tweet, PM Modi said that he had an excellent discussion with his friend, Johnson, on an ambitious road-map for India-UK ties in the next decade.

“We agreed to work towards a quantum leap in our cooperation in all areas — trade and investments, defence and security, climate change and fighting Covid-19,” PM Modi wrote in the tweet.

According to people based in the UK familiar with the details, the conversation between the two PMs was very positive, with Johnson offering a free trade agreement with India and to deepen cooperation on climate change issues. The leaders discussed ways to boost the partnership and put up a strong anti-Covid-19 response.

While the UK is aspiring to become Global Britain from Great Britain, the January 1 Brexit will put serious pressure on London — 47% of the UK’s exports have until now been bound for the European Union. With Europe prepared for a hard border and incoming US President Joe Biden having expressed his apprehensions about Brexit, the UK is facing uncertainty on trade issues.

From the Indian point of view, it is necessary for New Delhi to engage London as the latter is part of the P-5 (the five permanent members of the UN Security Council) and still has the ear of the US on Afghanistan and Pakistan. The UK also has a strong political lobby from Mirpur in Pakistan-occupied Kashmir (PoK), which often steers its course on issues such as Jammu and Kashmir.

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