In a first, all Asean leaders to attend India's Republic Day

The float from West Bengal depicting Durga Puja passes through the Rajpath during the full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day Parade 2017, in New Delhi on Jan 23, 2017. PHOTO: IANS

NEW DELHI (ASIA NEWS NETWORK) - In a first, 10 world leaders from Asean will be chief guests at India's annual Republic Day parade on January 26 to mark the silver jubilee of India's relations with the bloc.

All 10 members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations - Brunei, Cambodia, Indonesia, Laos, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Singapore, Thailand and Vietnam - have accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi's invite to attend the 69th Republic Day parade at the historic Rajpath, where India's military prowess and cultural heritage will be on display.

This is the first time that leaders from a bloc, instead of an individual country, will be the chief guests at the parade. In the recent past, the signal honour has been accorded to leaders such as former US president Barack Obama and former French president Francois Hollande.

The acceptance of the invitation by all Asean members is an indication of the growing importance of their relations with India - both as as a bloc and bilaterally.

Since the adoption of the Constitution in 1950, this is the first time there will be more than one chief guest at the parade, during which an Asean-India tableau will be displayed. Artists from Asean nations will perform "Ramayana", the epic that connects all these nations.

While addressing the 15th India-Asean summit in Manila last month, Modi had said that 1.25 billion people of India are keen to welcome the Asean leaders.

India's "Look East" policy, rechristened "Act East" after Modi became Prime Minister, is indicative of the country's proactive approach towards Asean countries to checkmate China's growing clout.

India is also being encouraged by other nations such as Singapore to play an active role in the region, given China's aggressive stance in the South China Sea and regional waters.

India and Asean are marking 25 years of dialogue partnership, 15 years of summit-level interaction, and five years of strategic partnership through a wide range of activities, both in India and through Indian missions in Asean member states, including a commemorative summit on the theme, "Shared Values, Common Destiny", the Statesman reported.

Commerce, culture and connectivity will be three C's of the India-Asean relationship during the high-profile commemorative summit to be held a day before Republic Day.

India and Asean are also discussing in Jakarta a joint declaration to be issued by Modi and Asean leaders at the end of their day-long summit. The fight against terrorism will be an important component of the declaration.

On Wednesday (Dec 13), the foreign secretaries of India, Japan and Australia met in New Delhi and underscored their "shared support for Asean centrality in the political and security architecture of the Indo-Pacific region".

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