Boris Johnson’s cancellation of R-day India visit sparks controversy

MUMBAI: Though the official line on UK prime minister, Boris Johnson for cancellation of his proposed Republic Day visit to India as chief guest stated that owing to accentuation of the situation created by the Covid-19 pandemic, he is constrained to call off the visit, the protesting farmer unions in India see it as a bid to express solidarity with their cause.

The farmers for some reason, maybe sympathetic remarks from the Canadian Prime Minister, a few weeks back, view Johnson’s cancellation of the R-Day India visit as an expression of solidarity with their ongoing agitation on the borders of the capital region.

The official lines open between the two prime ministers, however, were very cordial and Johnson expressed the view that he was very keen on visiting India any time in the near future and his unfortunate cancellation of the R-Day visit was owing to serious aggravation of the Covid-19 virus cases in the UK. Media reports disclosed that this communication took place over a telephonic conversation between Boris Johnson and Narendra Modi.

The farmer unions including the Sankyukt Kissan Morcha dubbed the cancellation as a political victory for their agitation and credited themselves for handing out a diplomatic defeat to the Modi government. Though there is no such sentiment coming from either the official communication or back channel diplomatic moves, the farmer unions felt elated about Johnson’s decision to cancel the India visit. The farmer agitation that continues to haunt the outskirts of the national capital region (NCR) has so far suffered 80 casualties, reported the unions. They further said, “These deaths will be counted as martyrdom for their just cause.”

Though no official channel talked about the farmer protest, the cancellation has precipitated a rare situation the country is faced with. It is rather unusual for any foreign dignitary invited to be present at the R-Day parade as chief guest to report an eleventh-hour cancellation. The two earlier occasions when this happened were in 2013 during Dr. Manmohan Singh’s tenure and more recently in 2019 in the Modi government’s second tenure. In 2013, the then minister of external affairs, Salman Khurshid managed to rope in the King of Bhutan as a last-ditch solution to the crisis precipitated by the head of Sultanate of Oman announcing a last-minute cancellation.

The previous year, when India was again faced with the problem as despite the US authorities clearing the visit of Donald Trump to attend India’s R-Day celebrations, a formal request had not reached Trump. Here again, South African president Cyril Ramaphosa stepped in to fill the void and the R-Day celebrations went on with the same level of grandeur. Right now, India has three options to exercise on this count. They can arrange for a chief guest from an alternate country or nation albeit at the eleventh hour. Alternatively, they can carry on with the R-Day celebrations without a chief guest.

The third option, that would be the politically correct one to take, would be that the Narendra Modi government observe a very subdued R-Day celebration, with minimum fanfare or gusto as it would be very difficult to observe social distancing and sanitization norms for a huge crowd. It also will be seen as the best line of defense for the government to thwart the agitating farmers’ threat to carry out a tractor rally on the occasion of January 26.


  • Venkatesh Raghavan
    Venkatesh Raghavan

    Venkatesh, Venky to his friends is our Consulting Editor. He is one of the most senior journalist in the field, with over three decades of experience in some of the top media houses. He keeps a keen eye on current affairs across the world.

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