Chandrikapersad Santokhi, the Indian-origin President of the South American nation of Suriname, is likely to be the new chief guest at India's Republic Day parade on January 26, following UK PM Boris Johnson's cancellation of the same over coronavirus disease (COVID-19) concerns.
Although no official sources have confirmed this yet, multiple media reports on Sunday (January 10) stated that Santokhi might be the chief guest, citing sources associated with the Prime Minister's Office (PMO).
Indian-origin President of Suriname
Chandrikapersad Santokhi was sworn in as the President of Suriname on July 16, 2020. The Indian-origin Santokhi took the oath in Sanskrit while holding Vedas during the inauguration ceremony, as he repeated the Sanskrit verses chanted by the priest.
Just one day ago, on the ocassion of the Pravasi Bharatiya (NRI) Divas celebrations, Santokhi had virtually pitched for free movement of people between India and Suriname as he favoured greater bilateral trade and cultural ties.
The Indian-origin president had expressed readiness to take the first step to end visa permits for visitors from India to Suriname.
Santokhi had also said there is scope to expand cooperation in areas of business, trade and tourism.
Elaborating on historical links between the two countries, the president had said that the Suriname diaspora is part of India's soft power and India is also part of Suriname's soft power.
Large numbers of Indian workers were taken to Suriname to work as indentured labourers in the 19th century.
"I also feel pride in being of Indian heritage, a heritage and culture which was passed on by my parents and grandparents, who 148 years ago, started this adventurous journey from Bihar and Uttar Pradesh and sailed from Kolkata in search of their dreams for a better life in Suriname," he had said.
Santokhi was the Chief Guest at the 16th Pravasi Bhartiya Divas conclave.
Invitation was first handed out to UK PM Boris Johnson
Earlier, Prime Minister of the United Kingdom, 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 on Tuesday last week, citing the need to oversee the pandemic response back home at the UK.
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 last night, 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.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson said that he hopes to be able to visit India in the first half of 2021, and ahead of the UK’s G7 Summit that Prime Minister Narendra Modi is due to attend as a guest, it said.
According to reports, it was only then that the Government of India invited the President of Suriname to be the chief guest at the January 26 parade, which he gladly accepted.
January 26 parade slated to be 'special' this time
The Republic Day parade, scheduled to be held on January 26 in the country's capital, New Delhi, is slated to be 'special' this time around. In addition to the National Security Guard (NSG)'s Black Cat commandos, the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF), the country's largest paramilitary force, will also present a tableau.
According to media reports, the January 26 parade, which will be held in a limited manner this time due to the COVID-19 pandemic, will also see the marching band squads of Delhi Police and the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), as well as a distinguished camel-borne squad of the Border Security Force (BSF).