12:47 pm - Monday November 9, 2015

Narendra Modi’s diplomatic coup: Barack Obama to be Republic Day parade chief guest

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NEW DELHI/WASHINGTON: PM Narendra Modi pulled off yet another diplomatic coup on Friday – perhaps his biggest one – when President Barack Obama accepted his invite to visit India as chief guest of the Republic Day parade next year.

Modi broke the news himself when he tweeted on Friday evening that he had invited Obama to visit India in January.

“This Republic Day, we hope to have a friend over… invited President Obama to be the 1st US President to grace the occasion as Chief Guest,” Modi tweeted in a sudden development.Within minutes, the White House confirmed the visit in a return tweet. “At the invitation of Prime Minister Modi, the President would travel to India in January 2015 to participate in the Indian Republic Day celebration in New Delhi as the Chief Guest. This visit will mark the first time a US President will have the honour of attending Republic Day, which commemorates the adoption of India’s Constitution. The President will meet with the Prime Minister and Indian officials to strengthen and expand the US-India strategic partnership,” the White House press secretary said.Sources said Obama’s visit would require him to recalibrate the date for his State of the Union address, one of the most crucial dates on the American president’s calendar. The address is typically delivered in the last week of January or the first week of February.

The big development stands out considering that the US, for a decade, publicly proclaimed that it would not give a visa to Modi. The stand was changed just before the Lok Sabha elections when Modi’s success had seemed obvious.

Sources said the decision to invite Obama was taken by Modi himself who decided to go beyond the MEA’s list of potential invitees to seek to scale up the Republic Day celebrations by turning the event into a major diplomatic outreach. Top government officials confirmed that the invite to the US president was the idea of the PM, who felt that the presence of the leader of the oldest democracy on the day to commemorate the foundation of the largest democracy would mark a celebration of the spirit of democracy besides giving a fillip to his effort to restore the warmth in bilateral ties.Sources said Modi was not deterred by the perception of Obama having been turned a lame duck after the debacle of his Democratic party in the recent mid-term polls to the US Congress, as he felt that Obama’s visit, his second after 2010, will deepen the long-term engagement between two democracies — a larger goal which he thinks should not be deterred by the tenure of the incumbent and their political circumstances.

They also said Modi took the initiative during his recent meetings with the US president in Myanmar and Australia.

Obama’s response was described by a senior government functionary as a breakthrough which comes close on the heels of Modi’s success in getting the US to relent on its insistence that India cap its food subsidy.

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