US President not expected to be chief guest at India’s Republic Day event

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NEW DELHI, Dec 13, (Agencies):  President of the United States of America Joe Biden is not expected to travel to India in January to participate in the Republic Day celebrations and the Indian side is looking at revised dates for a Quad Summit that was planned to be held next month, people familiar with the developments said on Tuesday.

Sources said on condition of anonymity that it is now clear Biden would not travel to India next month, prompting the Indian side to scout for new dates for the Quad Summit to be hosted by New Delhi. As recently as last month, diplomats of Quad states said the option of holding the summit on January 27 was still on the table.

The Indian side now proposes to hold the Quad Summit later in 2024, the sources said. “We are looking for revised dates as the dates currently under consideration do not work with all the Quad partners,” one source said.

The development will also put the Indian side in the uncomfortable position of having to look for a leader to be the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations with a little more than six weeks to go for the event.

A number of factors are believed to be behind the US administration’s decision not to take up the Republic Day invitation, including Biden’s focus on his re-election bid in the face of a resurgent campaign by former president Donald Trump, the State of the Union address expected in late January or early February, and a string of geopolitical crises, especially the Israel-Hamas conflict.

While there has been no official word from the Indian government on Biden being invited to be chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations on January 26, US Ambassador Eric Garcetti told reporters in September that an invitation had been extended to President Biden by Prime Minister Narendra Modi when the two leaders held a bilateral meeting on the margins of the G20 Summit.

The invitation to a foreign leader to be chief guest at the Republic Day is a signal honor reserved for India’s closest allies and partners. There were no chief guests at the celebrations in 2021 and 2022 because of disruptions caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, and Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was the chief guest this year.

While the leaders of Australia and Japan have pressing domestic engagements in late January, both countries had agreed to join a proposed Quad Summit on January 27, provided Biden went ahead with his visit to New Delhi, the people said.

A Quad Summit over the weekend following Republic Day was being considered because Australian Prime Minister Anthony Albanese will be busy with Australia Day on January 26, while his Japanese counterpart Fumio Kishida will be tied up with a session of the Diet or Japan’s Parliament. The Diet session is expected to begin on either January 15 or January 22, and the convention is that the premier cannot be absent during proceedings.

Australia and Japan had shown flexibility about the holding of the Quad Summit in January because both India and the US are set to go into general elections, which will sharply reduce the window for such a meeting, the people said. Officials of all four Quad states were also working on a list of deliverables in areas such as critical and emerging technologies, climate change, maritime security, health security and critical minerals.

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