In what is a major international and regional honor for Bhutan, His Majesty the King has been invited as the Chief Guest for the 64th Republic Day of India, on 26 January 2013. His Majesty the King has accepted the invitation.
The invitation by the Indian government and its acceptance was confirmed by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MoFA) in Thimphu.
“We have received the invitation and His Majesty has accepted it,” said Kinga Singye, who is the Director of Bilateral Affairs in MoFA that looks after bilateral relations with various countries including India.
Republic day is a prestigious and important occasion in India which commemorates the date on which the Constitution of India came into force as the governing document of India on 26 January 1950. The date 26 January itself stands for the day of declaration of independence in 1930. It is also a great honor for any foreign head of state to be invited as a Chief Guest for the event.
In terms of importance and ceremony India’s Republic Day is equivalent to Bhutan’s National Day.
The invitation of His Majesty has enormous import for Indo-Bhutan relations. This will be the first invitation of His Majesty as a Republic Day Chief Guest after he assumed the throne in 2006.
The invitation comes at a critical juncture for Bhutan which is in the process of negotiating with the Indian government, on the quantum of grant to be provided for the 11th plan. India is Bhutan’s largest donor by far for every plan since the first plan.
Also, though three hydro projects are ongoing India will be investing billions more in the remaining seven projects most of which will see implementation in the 11th plan.
The invitation also comes in the backdrop of the elected government’s several diplomatic moves including some contested statements made by Lyonchhen Jigmi Y Thinley with the Chinese Premier Wen Jiabo that created unease and confusion in the Indian government. There were also widespread reports on the issue in the Indian media.
His Majesty the King’s visit is expected to considerably calm any jitters and strengthen Indo-Bhutan ties. Recently during the National Day His Majesty awarded the Druk Thuksey to Indian Ambassador Pavan K Varma and former Indian Ambassadors Salman Haidar (1980-83) and Ambassador Dalip Mehta (1995-98). The National Order of Merit (Gold) was also awarded to Consul General of Bhutan in Kolkata Dasho Tshering Wangda and businessman Gyaltshen Dukpa for their personal commitment to the Indo-Bhutan friendship.
Earlier His Majesty immediately after the popular Royal Wedding visited India as the first country.
The invitation of His Majesty also underscores the popularity and trust enjoyed by the Monarchy, and especially His Majesty among senior Indian leaders and Indian society in general.
The visit by His Majesty will also considerably enhance the prestige of Bhutan not only in India but also internationally as India as a rising superpower invites only those countries with significant international political, economic and strategic weight.
The visit will also further strengthen His Majesty the King’s international profile as a leader and statesman of global importance and significance. His Majesty’s visits to Thailand and Japan not only considerably increased His Majesty’s own popularity but also lead to increased popularity for Bhutan leading to record inflow of tourists from both countries.
With this invitation Bhutan will also have the unique distinction of being invited four times for the Republic Day. France is the only other country enjoying such a unique distinction. Even a close friend and ally like the former USSR and now Russia have been invited a maximum of only three times.
A 2007 visit by His Majesty the King saw Bhutan and India signing the revised India-Bhutan Friendship Treaty that gave Bhutan much more leeway in foreign affairs and defense.
The previous Republic Day visit as a Chief Guest was made by His Majesty the Fourth King in 2005. This visit was widely interpreted as a sign of gratitude by India for the ‘Operation All Clear’ launched by His Majesty to flush out Indian militants in Bhutan. It was also in recognition of Bhutan’s larger strategic importance to India. Following the visit several big economic projects were announced including the 5,000 MW project which was upgraded to 10,000 MW.
Prior to that His Majesty the Fourth King was invited in 1984. During the era of Jawaharlal Nehru His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo was invited as a Chief Guest in 1950.
Every year various agencies of the Ministry of External Affairs representing different parts of the world submit a list of potential leaders with significant economic, political and strategic interests for India, to the Prime Minister’s officer who makes the final call.
It is understood that another leader who was under consideration as Chief Guest for the Republic Day was the Sultan of Oman Sultan Qaboos bin Said Al Said, but a formal diplomatic invitation was finally sent to His Majesty the King.
The Republic Day is considered to be one of the world’s most impressive parades. It starts with the Indian Prime Minister laying a wreath to honor Indian soldiers who died in battle. He then proceeds to the main podium at Rajpath where he awaits with other dignitaries for the President of India and the Chief Guest who are escorted by ceremonial Presidential Bodyguards.
The Chief Guest is introduced by the President to the Prime Minister and other senior dignitaries like cabinet ministers.
After India’s national anthem is sung and the flag is unfurled by the President, he gives India’s highest bravery awards to its military and civilians.
Then the parade starts from near the Presidential Palace going through the India gate. The Parade comprises of sections of the army, air planes and navy personnel, colorful army bands, flotillas from every Indian state representing various cultures and colorful school children.