India has made an intriguing choice of chief guest for Republic Day 2020 in Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro. The invitation to the Brazilian President in the course of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s visit to that South American country for the Brics summit last week has stoked a controversy, to say the least. Those opposing him have gone to the extent of calling him “homophobic, misogynist and a bigot”.
Mr Bolsonaro was also in the news for his overt support to forces that may have set thousands of fires in the Amazon rainforest, seen as a threat to the world’s ecology. Curiously, he had then got support for his pro-business policies from northern neighbour Donald Trump. In sum, Mr Bolsonaro doesn’t seem to be a leader India should roll out the red carpet for.
The government may not have gauged the antipathy to Brazil’s President in reaching out to South America, from where Brazil is India’s biggest trading partner with over $6 billion, a bit in Brazil’s favour in exports to India. The tilt to the right wing is a given thanks to the ideology of the present leadership in Delhi. As one of those furthering the new political phenomenon of “strongmanship” worldwide, the BJP-NDA may find in Mr Bolsonaro a kindred soul.
History shows that in recent decades India pinned its choice of R-Day chief guest in terms of strategic and trade interests, and spread its search far and wide.
The nation even had Pakistan’s governor-general Malik Ghulam Muhammad as chief guest in 1955, which is unthinkable amid today’s cold war with our neighbour. There are, however, strategic reasons for India to look closer to home in choosing a ceremonial guest. By any standards, Mr Bolsonaro isn’t one who is widely admired.