No foreign head of state or government will attend this year's Republic Day celebrations as the chief guest due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the foreign ministry confirmed on Thursday.
"Due to the global COVID-19 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," Ministry of External Affairs spokesperson Anurag Srivastava said.
Earlier, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was invited to attend India's Republic Day parade on January 26, which was accepted by the British leader. However, Johnson cancelled his visit later, citing the need to oversee the pandemic response back home.
The UK government, in an official statement, said that Boris Johnson had personally spoken to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing his regret that he will be unable to visit India later this month as planned.
In light of the national lockdown announced (in UK), and the speed at which the new coronavirus variant is spreading, Johnson said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus, the government statement detailed.
Later, the name of Chandrikapersad Santokhi, the Indian-origin President of the South American nation of Suriname, emerged as Johnson's replacement for the Republic Day celebrations. Although, no official sources had confirmed it.
Meanwhile, a total of 321 students from four schools in Delhi and 80 folk artists from Kolkata will take part in the cultural programme at the Republic Day parade at Rajpath, the Defence Ministry said on Wednesday.
The artists have been selected from Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre in Kolkata and the students have been selected from DTEA Senior Secondary School, Mount Abu Public School, Vidya Bharti School, Government Girls Senior Secondary School, the ministry said in a statement.
The number of participating children and folk artists has been cut down to 401 this year, compared to more than 600 last year, in view of the COVID-19 restrictions, it noted.
The statement said, "102 students of Government Girls Senior Secondary School will present a programme on the theme 'Hum Fit Toh India Fit' inspired by the Fit India Movement launched by Prime Minister Shri Narendra Modi in August 2019."
It noted that 127 children from DTEA Senior Secondary School will showcase folk dances of Tamil Nadu in their traditional attires. It said 92 students from Mount Abu Public School and Vidya Bharti School will participate in the programme named "Aatmanirbhar Bharat: Vision of Self Reliant India".
"Eighty folk artists of Eastern Zonal Cultural Centre will present the folk dance Bajasal from Kalahandi, Odisha," it said.
(With PTI inputs)