New Delhi preparations for the Republic Day parade have been thrown in a tizzy after UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson canceled his India visit with a terse announcement from Downing Street that cited the need to oversee the pandemic response at home.

In 2018, US President Donald Trump had declined PM Narendra Modi’s invite to be the Chief Guest at the 2019 Republic Day celebrations. However, Trump had conveyed his regrets nearly three months before the event, giving South Block enough time to invite South African President Cyril Ramaphosa.

India had last faced a last-minute pull out in 2013 when the Sultan of a West Asian monarchy declined the invitation but the King of Bhutan Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, who was the Chief Guest barely eight years back, graciously decided to step in.

PM Modi had converted the guest list at Republic Day parades from the statement of intent regarding the foreign policy into an event that appeared to suggest India’s coming out party. The first two parades during his tenure was a continuation of inviting India’s close allies. But in 2017 there were seven chief guests and there were 10 in 2018. Last year, plans to continue with the multi-person format did not work out, and South Block had to settle for the Brazilian President at the last moment.

Johnson announced the pullout on a day his Foreign Office announced the filling up of the vacant High Commissioner’s slot here. Deputy National Security Advisor Alex Ellis will be the new High Commissioner, said a UK Foreign Office announcement.

The previous incumbent Philip Barton, also a career diplomat like Ellis, has gone home several months back and is now the Permanent Under-Secretary of the Foreign Office. Besides India, he had also served as the High Commissioner to Pakistan from 2014 to 2016.

Before entering the bureaucracy, Ellis was a history teacher and sings in a choir. On the official side, he is reported to have extensive experience in security issues and strategy.

Ellis takes over at a time when Britain is eyeing a major defense deal; its previous mega order of advanced jet trainers to the Indian Air Force has run its course.

As was the case with his predecessor, this will not be his first attempt at a top job. Ellis has served as the British Ambassador to Brazil (2013 – 2017) and Portugal (2007-10).

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