South African president Cyril Ramaphosa will be its Republic Day chief guest in 2019, weeks after US President Donald Trump declined New Delhi’s invitation, citing pressing engagements.
The White House said Trump was “honoured” by India’s invitation, but was unable to take part “due to scheduling constraints”.
Ramaphosa, 65, became president this year, succeeding Jacob Zuma as South Africa’s head of state.
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Cyril Ramaphosa, a follower of Mahatma Gandhi and Nelson Mandela, was invited because this year will mark Gandhi’s 150th birth anniversary.
Ramaphosa will take part in Pravasi Bharatiya Divas celebrations, which commemorate Gandhi’s return to India from South Africa. This year, they will take place in Varanasi, which happens to be Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s Lok Sabha constituency.
The date was moved from January 9 to the second half of the month so it would coincide with Republic Day celebrations.
When asked if the decision had something to do with India signing a deal with Russia on S-400 missile defence systems, Kenneth Juster, the US’s ambassador to India, said it was “a purely scheduling issue”.
In 2015, Barack Obama was India’s Republic Day chief guest.