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


* 2002: President Cassam Uteem of Mauritius — This was in line with New Delhi's plans to reach out to the African countries. Mauritius has a large number of people of Indian origin, including Cassam Uteem himself. Uteem had been President of the island nation for the previous ten years and India wanted to honour his achievement.

2001: President Abdelaziz Bouteflika of Algeria — This visit had more to do with NAM legacy. Bouteflika was a friendly face for India in Africa and the NDA government under Vajpayee also wanted to use him to convey that it did not discriminate against Muslims.

* 2000: President Olusengun Obasanjo of Nigeria — As a young military officer, Obasanjo had come, rather reluctantly, to India for training. Once here, he fell in love with India. He became a military dictator in 1976 but just three years later transferred power to an elected President. He was imprisoned in the early nineties by another military dictatorship. During this time, India honoured him with the Indira Gandhi Peace Prize which his wife received on his behalf. Obasanjo was released only in 1998 and went on to win the Presidency in elections a year later. India wasted no time in inviting him for the Republic Day the following year.

* 1999: King Birendra Bir Bikram Shah Dev of Nepal — This was in line with New Delhi's policy of a continued engagement with its neighbours. The Gujral doctrine of promoting friendly relations with neighbouring countries was very much still in practice even though the government had changed.

1998: President Jacques Chirac of France — This was a period when India was wooing Western powers for technological and military supplies in the wake of the fall of the Soviet Union. The US was not warming up enough and the UK was seen to be toeing the Washington line on major issues. France had a more independent thought process and was more willing to do business quietly. France was the only major power not to have criticised the Indian nuclear tests carried out less than six months later.

... contd.

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