New Delhi: India will celebrate her 69th Republic Day this Friday with what promises to be unprecedented pomp and grandeur. The annual parade at Rajpath once again will be the main highlight with an entire country tuning in to catch a glimpse of India's cultural heritage and military might. Not just Indians but people from the world over follow the parade with keen interest. Among them will be head of states from 10 Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) - the chief guests for Republic Day 2018.
So, just why are there 10 leaders as chief guests this year instead of the usual one that Republic Day celebrations have seen over the years?
In his last radio address of 2017 to the nation, PM Narendra Modi had announced that a record 10 chief guests would be part of Republic Day celebrations in 2018. He had highlighted India's growing bonhomie with ASEAN countries and underlined completion of 50 years of the South Asian bloc. Pointing out that India's Republic Day in 2018 would be celebrated not just here but across ASEAN countries to celebrate 25 years of India's association with the bloc. Having leaders from these countries as chief guests, therefore, was a natural diplomatic offset.
"January 26 is a historic festival for all Indians but 26 January of 2018 will especially be remembered through the ages," PM Modi had said in his Mann ki Baat broadcast. "The Republic Day will be celebrated with leaders of all 10 ASEAN countries coming to India as chief guests. This time, not one but 10 chief guests would grace the Republic Day. This is unprecedented in India's history."
Over the years since India first celebrated Republic Day on January 26 of 1950, prominent leaders from across the world have been invited to be the chief guests. Among them have been Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz al-Saud (2006), Russian President Vladimir Putin (2007), French Presidents Nicolas Sarkozy (2008) and François Hollande (2016), Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe (2014) and US President Barack Obama (2015).
The first-ever chief guest though was Indonesian President Sukarno and 2018 will be the first time since that a leader from the country - Joko Widodo - will grace Republic Day with his presence.
Joining Widodo for the celebrations would be Vietnam PM Nguyen Phuc, Myanmar State Councillor Aung San Suu Kyi, Laos PM Thongloun Sisoulith, Malaysia PM Najib Razak, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Singapore PM Lee Hsien Loong, Cambodia PM Hun Sen, Thailand PM Prayut Chan-Ocha and Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah.
While this is indeed the first time that as many as 10 foreign dignitaries have been invited as chief guests for Republic Day celebrations, it is not the first time that the number will be more than one. In 1956, UK's Chancellor of the Exchequer RA Butler and Japan's Chief Justice Kotaro Tanaka were invited to be chief guests. In 1968, Chairman Alexei Kosygin of the erstwhile Soviet Union and Yugoslavia President Josip Broz Tito were the chief guests. Tito returned in 1974 to be the chief guest along with Sri Lanka PM Sirimavo Bandaranaike.
This year's celebration though promises to be more spectacular than ever before. Joining the line of tableaux would also be one representing ASEAN countries with several artists from the member nations also taking part in the parade.