A major diplomatic embarrassment faced the Narendra Modi government after US President Donald Trump reportedly declined Centre's request to be the chief guest at next year's Republic Day Parade.
A report in Times of India, which has now been pulled down, on Sunday, October 28, claimed that the inability of the US President to make it to the Republic Day was conveyed in a letter to National Security Advisor Ajit Doval during his recent visit to the US in September, nearly a week after the first ever 2+2 Dialogue between US and India in New Delhi.
The PTI had reported back then that Trump had accepted PM Modi's invite to visit India (read before Lok Sabha elections) during Doval's visit, but hadn't confirmed his participation for Republic Day.
While the R-Day celebrations roughly coinciding with the State of the Union Address (SOTU) has reportedly been given as the primary reason, differences between India and US on crucial issues of S-400 deal and Iranian crude imports are believed to the real reasons behind US' President's denial, as per analysts.
However, it is the clumsiness of the Modi government in the entire episode that has become the talking point.
Foreign policy observers, public and Opposition parties have been more vocal on social media, many labelling Trump's turning down of Centre's invite as a major "humiliation" for India.
"It is a diplomatic faux pas and an avoidable embarrassment. There was no justification to have extended the invitation without first ascertaining that US President Trump will accept it. It is a failure of Indian diplomacy, they should have avoided it," said Congress leader Anand Sharma on Monday, October 29, when asked to react on the matter.
While the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) may be given credit for exercising some diplomatic discretion and not commenting on Trump’s R-Day invite till date, several media leaks from the top echelons of the Modi government have made everything an open secret
A former foreign secretary, talking to NH on condition of anonymity, said that the conventional diplomatic norm was to get an in-principle approval from the visiting dignitary before extending an official invite, so to order embarrassment at a later stage.
While the Ministry of External Affairs (MEA) may be given credit for exercising some diplomatic discretion and not commenting on Trump's R-Day invite till date, several media leaks from the top echelons of the Modi government have made everything an open secret.
The news of Trump having been extended an invite in April was first reported in July. BJP's supporters and leaders had claimed that having Trump for R-Day would be a major foreign policy coup for Prime Minister Modi, who has made no secret of his open admiration for the mercurial US leader.
There is, now, a growing perception that the leak may have been deliberate, happening at the behest of Prime Minister's Office and the National Security Advisor, who was in the US last month to pave the groundwork for Trump's upcoming visit.
Despite the jubilatory mood in the BJP camp, the development hadn't prompted any reaction from the MEA at the time. It was only in August when White House Press Secretary confirmed that Trump had received an invite from India, that some light was shed on Modi government's invitation.
"I know that the invitation has been extended, but I do not believe that a final decision has been made," Sanders had said back then.
More leaks emerged from the Indian side, not the MEA, during Doval's visit to the US in September. The latest reported letter mentioning Trump's refusal was handed by US officials to Doval during the same trip.
A response from MEA on the latest developments is still awaited.
The US Embassy in Delhi declined to comment.
"Sorry, cannot address this. We refer you to the White House presidential level," said an official at the American Embassy in New Delhi.
Update: The White House responded to queries on President Trump’s denial on Monday (DC local time).
“President Trump was honored by Prime Minister Modi’s invitation for him to be Chief Guest of India’s Republic Day on January 26, 2019 but is unable to participate due to scheduling constraints,” a White House staffer said in a statement.