Choosing R-Day chief guest: Behind the warm welcome, a cold strategy


In an innovation increasingly evident, the government has been weaving strategy with hospitality to decide its chief guest for the Republic Day. So in the 60th year of the republic, as it gets ready to host chief guest and South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, New Delhi has given the final environmental clearance to Posco, the South Korean steel giant, to set up a $12-billion steel plant in Orissa. The project is the single biggest foreign investment in the country.

There are other reasons as well for India to extend this year's honour to Lee. South Korea is an influential player in the Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum where India has a growing stake, because of which New Delhi feels the need for a greater engagement with APEC member countries.

India also signed a Comprehensive Economic Partnership Agreement (CEPA) with South Korea recently to bolster economic ties. CEPA is much more than just a free trade agreement as it includes services in its scope as well.

Lee, however, is not the only Republic Day chief guest who has been invited for reasons more than mere ceremonial. The choice of chief guest every year is dictated by a number of reasons — strategic and diplomatic, business interest and international geo-politics.

There is an interesting sub-text for the visit of every head of state who is invited as the chief guest for the Republic Day. Though the reasons differ from year to year, the choice — either for Republic Day chief guests or for recipients of prestigious awards — is based on some general principles. Most often, the choice is dictated by the usefulness of the person to India, either in the past or in future.

Consider this list of chief guests:

2009: President Nursultan Nazarbayev of Kazakhstan — Kazakhstan is one of the largest producers of uranium which India was seeking desperately to secure fuel supplies for its nuclear reactors. India signed a civil nuclear deal with Kazakhstan during Nazarbayev's visit and the first uranium consignment was delivered soon after.

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