Why Delhi invited Jair Bolsonaro to R-Day Parade

Understanding New Delhi’s invitation to Jair Bolsonaro for the Republic Day Parade

It's possible India doesn't want to take any chances with disapproval or criticism from the West over its actions in J&K; Brazilian President's visit also an opportunity to strengthen bilateral trade and strategic partnership

Brazil's President Jair Bolsonaro. (Reuters Photo)


Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro is invited as the chief guest for India’s Republic Day Parade on January 26, 2020. This is the third time a Brazilian president is visiting India for Republic Day celebrations. Mr Bolsonaro is preceded by President Fernando Cardoso in 1996 and President Lula da Silva in 2004. Both these visits helped strengthen the India-Brazil strategic relationship.

Since 1950, India has been using Republic Day celebrations for signalling foreign policy priorities, strengthening friendships and reaffirming global partnerships. For example, when South Africa ended apartheid in 1994 and embraced participatory democracy, India invited the then South African President Nelson Mandela for R-Day celebrations in 1995. Similarly, when the military dictatorship in Nigeria ended in 1999 and a democratic government took over, the Nigerian president Olusegun Obasanjo was invited for R-Day celebrations in 2000. This trend has continued over the years.

The nature of the regime in power and their politico-diplomatic priorities always take precedence while inviting a guest for such occasions. India’s invitation to the current Brazilian president could be analysed keeping the latest, domestic and international, the political context in mind. India’s decision to abrogate Article 370 and reorganise the state of Jammu and Kashmir has not gone down well in the international community. India is facing criticism over this move and influential sections in Western political establishments have openly voiced their concerns.

It would rather play it safe. The current Brazilian president, although democratically elected amidst political turmoil within Brazil, is not known as a liberal or a moderate leader. During the visit, he is unlikely to raise uncomfortable issues such as Kashmir. Rather, domestically, Mr Bolsonaro is openly appreciative of past military dictatorships and wanted to take 'tough' measures to fight crime and is known to provide populist, simple answers to complex problems. He is also known to harbour controversial views about women, black people, and same-sex preferences among other things.

Inviting Mr Bolsonaro could also be a sign that the present Indian establishment wants to engage and perhaps, enhance ties with right-wing political forces globally. India’s actions in the last few months point towards that direction: India had invited right-leaning members of the European parliament to visit Kashmir. In September 2019, Prime Minister Modi had openly called for the re-election of Mr Donald Trump in America and India-Japan relationship has never been stronger as it is under the leadership of Mr Shinzo Abe, who is a well-known right-wing leader.

Besides, after the victory of Boris Johnson and the Conservative Party in the recently concluded British elections, many Indian right-wing analysts were delighted and expressed hope of stronger Indo-British ties. It is apparent that in the ongoing struggle world over between the Right and the Left, the Indian establishment seems to have positioned itself against Left-liberals and their ideas.

That said, it is simplistic to argue that the visit of Mr Bolsonaro is just planned to strengthen right-wing solidarity and to deflect international criticism. It is also intended to focus attention towards Latin America, a long-neglected region having 20 states, as far as Indian foreign policy goes.

India and Brazil are both regional powers within their own region and share similar developmental challenges. They were once known as 'emerging powers' in world affairs, and along with Japan and Germany, aspire to become permanent members of the United Nations Security Council. India and Brazil also co-operate in multilateral forums such as IBSA (India, Brazil and South Africa) and BRICS (Brazil, Russia, India, China and South Africa). Over the years, BRICS has become an important grouping and is attempting to redefine international economic order with initiatives such as the New Development Bank. For India, IBSA is, in fact, a more logical framework for furthering South-South co-operation and strengthening security partnership in the form of joint exercises and military training. In this visit, the revival of IBSA should be on the cards.

Indo-Brazil bilateral trade is hovering around $7.5 billion and has the potential to go up further. India exports items such as diesel oil, pharmaceutical products and textiles to Brazil and imports items such as cane sugar, copper, soya oil and gold. Bilateral co-operation could be deepened in areas such as the sugar industry, food and energy security, science and technology, bio-fuels and maritime security. Brazil could be a gateway for Indian public and private sector companies to explore Latin American markets and expand their footprint. Indian oil companies like ONGC Videsh had invested in the Brazilian oil sector and India and Brazil also have a joint venture for exploration and production in oil and gas. Brazil and other oil-rich Latin American states like Columbia and Venezuela could help India to diversify its oil basket.

Once, owing to their rapid economic growth and developmental trajectory, India and Brazil were touted as actors that could shape the international system. However, both these states now face challenges due to their sluggish economic growth, consequently difficult international environment and domestic political turmoil. Can these two countries revive optimism about their future? Mr Bolsonaro’s visit this week isn’t likely to provide any definite answers.

(Sankalp Gurjar is a Research Fellow with the Indian Council of World Affairs, New Delhi. Views are personal)

Disclaimer: The views expressed above are the author’s own. They do not necessarily reflect the views of DH.

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox

Check out all newsletters

Get a round-up of the day's top stories in your inbox