Xi or Imran? Merkel or Putin? Ghani or Oli?
After Donald Trump declined India's invitation to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade, the Narendra Damodaras government ponders which leader it should invite -- and more important who will accept knowing that s/he wasn't India's first choice -- to grace the occasion.
Even as the mandarins mull on who to invite, here's a list of world leaders Prime Minister Modi could consider having over in January.
Photograph: Press Information Bureau
From enjoying a swing along the Sabarmati , to taking a boat ride and enjoying a chai on Wuhan's East River, Modi and Xi seems to have done it all. So, why not have China's Supreme Leader over for Republic Day?
If he accepts, Xi will only be the second Chinese leader to grace Republic Day -- the first was in 1958, when Marshal Ye Jianying -- one of Mao Xedong's trusted generals -- was the chief guest.
India and China enjoy a complicated relationship, some would even call them frenemies. Issues such as the huge trade imbalance (favouring China), the border dispute festering since the 1962 War, and China's 'all weather' friendship with Pakistan rile India.
Perhaps, the invite will help thaw the Himalayan frost. Given how touchy the Chinese are about gestures and symbolism, it is unlikely Xi will accept such an invitation knowing that he was not India's first choice. By inviting Xi in Trump's place India would throw the gauntlet down at the Americans -- would the panjandrums at the MEA want that?
Photograph: Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters
When Prime Minister Modi was sworn into office in 2014, he was praised for his 'master stroke' of inviting the seven South Asian leaders, including then Pakistan prime minister Nawaz Sharif.
Since then much water has flowed down the Indus. Sharif is no longer in office, succeeded by the charismatic World Cup-winning cricketer turned politician Imran Khan, and relations between the two nations have swung from the usual benign indifference to the all-too-familiar mutual hostility.
Pakistan remains a bone in the throat for every Indian prime minister, but it is still not too late for Modi to show it needn't be that way.
Just as he began his tenure with a grand gesture, he could end his first term in office with a similar one -- by bowling a bouncer at Khan and inviting him to Republic Day.
Of course, politically, the invite would be a no-no for Modi with the Lok Sabha election just months away and given the daily firefights at the LoC which have martyred scores of our soldiers.
Okay, so inviting Immi over was wishful thinking on our part, too wishful even.
But if not Imran Khan, who else from the neighbourhood?
How about Afghanistan, another country that has never made it to the Republic Day celebrations despite all our protestations of its strategic importance?
Tangentially, doing so will send temperatures soaring in Islamabad and the Pakistan army's GHQ in Rawalpindi, which is welcome.
For in world politics, more than anywhere else, the axiom that your enemy's enemy is your friend will always hold true.
Photograph: Fabrizio Bensch/Reuters
She is the most powerful woman in the world. Some say she is the strongest leader in the world.
As they say, strength respects strength, so it would make eminent sense for Prime Minister Modi to invite German Chancellor Angela Merkel for the Republic Day parade -- and also making it her first diplomatic commitment since announcing that she would not seek re-election when her current term in office expires in 2021.
Here's an unusual tidbit. Germany -- nor its previous avatars, the German Democratic Republic and the Federal Republic of Germany -- has never been invited to India's Republic Day.
Thus, it will be one more historical mistake to correct for the present regime.
Photograph: Yuri Kadobnov/Pool/Reuters
It shouldn't come as a shock if the Modi government invites Russian President Vladimir Putin (he was the guest of honour in 2007 too) for the Republic Day celebrations.
Several observers believe that one of the reasons Trump turned down India's invite is because of its $5 billion deal to purchase five S-400 Triumf missile shield systems from Moscow, especially while displaying no such fervour to buy American weaponry.
Inviting Putin, in the face of American unhappiness, will take us back to how it all was once upon a time. An angry Washington, DC, a willing Moscow, and a 'non-aligned' India.
Photograph: Darren Staples/Reuters
It's not often we see leaders letting go and having some fun, shaking a leg. But, May clearly isn't like others!
She's all for having a great time and isn't afraid of getting her groove on.
In her previous two outings, May has been seen showing off her terpsichorean skills and for that reason alone we hope she gets invited, and accepts.
Oh, what will we give to see her breaking into a jig while the cultural floats move down Rajpath at the R-Day parade. Surely, that would be some sight to behold!
And given her never-ending political troubles over Brexit, Mrs May may only be too glad to accept and salvage some respite from the hordes of adversaries in her own Conservative party and elsewhere.
K P Oli
Photograph: Press Information Bureau
The 2019 Republic Day celebration will be the last before India's general election, and already there are not-so-subtle hints about how the narrative will build up before next summer.
From Ayodhya to Sabarimala, the ruling party is keen to project and defend Hindu interests, even willing to override judicial pronouncements to do this.
So, enter Nepal, till not too long ago the only Hindu kingdom in the world and which country Modi has visited thrice in his tenure.
Politics is all about subliminal messaging, so what better way to do it ahead of the Lok Sabha election than invite Nepal's Prime Minister K P Oli -- incidentally, no great fan of India -- to our Republic Day?