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


1997: Prime Minister Basdeo Panday of Trinidad and Tobago — A PIO, Panday was the Foreign Minister when India's then External Affairs Minister N D Tiwari made a trip to Trinidad and Tobago. They decided to open an Indian cultural centre in Trinidad. But it did not go down well with the local population which accused Panday of letting India colonise their country. The cultural centre was put on hold. Panday himself lost the ministership because of other reasons. But when he returned as Prime Minister in 1995, one of the first things that Panday did was to open the Indian cultural centre.

1996: President Fernando Henrique Cardoso of Brazil — This was when the idea of closer cooperation between the emerging economies was still taking shape. Till then India had negligible trade with Latin America. Cardoso was also in favour of greater economic cooperation between the two countries. Trade picked up and India also opened a consul in Sao Paulo.

1995: President Nelson Mandela of South Africa — After 27 years in prison, Mandela had just been elected President of South Africa in its first ever multi-racial elections in 1994. And it was only fitting that India invited him to grace the Republic Day next January.

1994: Prime Minister Goh Chok Tong of Singapore — India had recently become a dialogue partner of ASEAN. So important was Singapore's role in India's engagement with ASEAN that Manmohan Singh, then the Finance Minister, used to often say that New Delhi must never forget the contribution of Singapore which had held India's hand when no one else did.

1993: Prime Minister John Major of United Kingdom — In the wake of the break-up of Soviet Union, India was trying to warm up to the Western powers for its military and technology supplies and Britain was one of the first ones New Delhi had reached out to.

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