For the first time in 55 years, the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) announced that no foreign dignitary would attend the Republic Day Parade on January 26, given the COVID-19 pandemic that had gripped the world.
While addressing a press conference, MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava stated that given the world health crisis, India had decided to not invite any foreign head as the Chief Guest for the 26 January parade.
It is important to note that the absence of a foreign dignitary in the R-Day parade has not occurred since 1966 when Indira Gandhi had just recently taken charge after the demise of Lal Bahadur Shastri, a mere fortnight before the Republic Day parade.
"Due to the global COVID19 situation, it has been decided that this year there will not be any foreign head of state or government as the chief guest for our Republic Day event," said Anurag Srivastava.
Last year, India had extended an invitation to UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson to attend India's 2021 Republic Day celebrations which the latter had accepted calling the "very generous invitation" a "great honour". However, shortly after, the British Prime Minister cancelled his visit amid the sudden surge of cases owing to the new UK strain of the virus in the nation. Sharing that he needed to focus on the 'domestic response', PM Johnson spoke to PM Modi to express his 'regret' over his absence as the Chief Guest.
Meanwhile, the absence of a foreign head is not the only change introduced in Republic Day Parade 2021. This year, the parade will witness major changes due to COVID-19 pandemic.
Every year, the parade covers a distance of 8.5 km but the Republic Day parade, this year will only march for a distance of 3.5 Km. The reduction in the distance is the outcome of the decision to maintain social distancing between the marching contingents.
The number of individuals in each continent have also be cut short to only 96 members in place of 144 members in each contingent. The size of the contingents has been reformulated to 12×8 in place of usual 12×12 rows and columns. This will result in a visible change in patterns of the parade. Moreover, all marching participants and performers will be wearing masks during the parade.