New Delhi: South African President Cyril Ramaphosa has accepted Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s invitation to be the chief guest for 70th Republic Day celebrations in January 2019. “Glad to have met President Cyril Ramaphosa. At a time when India is marking the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi, it is our honour to welcome President Ramaphosa as the Chief Guest for the 2019 Republic Day celebrations. Bapu’s close link with South Africa is well known,” Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted after meeting South African President.

He said Ramaphosa’s visit to India will further cement bilateral ties between the two countries. “The upcoming visit of President Ramaphosa, and that too during the special occasion of India’s Republic Day will further cement business and people-to-people ties between India and South Africa,” Modi tweeted further.

Vijay Gokhale, Foreign Secretary also confirmed that Ramaphosa has accepted PM Modi’s invite. “The PM had a number of bilateral engagements this morning. Argentina PM is keen to make a visit to India in 2019. PM extended invitation to South African President Cyril Ramaphosa to be the chief guest for India’s Republic Day in 2019 and Ramaphosa accepted,” the foreign secretary said.

The SA President is reportedly a Gandhi follower who led 5,000-odd people at the annual ‘Gandhi Walk’ in Lenasia, a township south of Johannesburg. Ramaphosa served as the Deputy President of South Africa from 2014 to 2018. A report by a leading daily said that the Pravasi Bharatiya Divas, which celebrates Gandhi’s return from South Africa, has been shifted to the second half of January to coincide with the Republic Day celebrations.

Earlier in April, India had sent the invite to US President Donald Trump but the latter turned down the invitation. Trump reportedly rejected India’s invitation over the latter’s S-400 missile defence system deal with Russia and oil imports from Iran despite the United States sanctions. As per sources, Donald Trump’s decision was conveyed by the US authorities to NSA Ajit Doval. Another reason to turn down the invitation was Trump’s domestic commitments — State of the Union (SOTU) address around that time.

This year, the R-day parade was attended by 10 leaders of state from ASEAN or Association of Southeast Asian Nations, a regional grouping of 10 Southeast Asian countries. Leaders from the 10 nations — Thailand, Vietnam, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Myanmar, Cambodia, Laos and Brunei — was present on a stage enclosed with a 100 feet wide bullet-proof glass. The chief guest at India’s first Republic Day on January 26, 1950 was the President of Indonesia, and since then, five other Southeast Asian leaders have chief guests at the Republic Day parade.