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Two leaders in, six to land

Ruchira Kamboj, senior official in the foreign ministry, greets Bhutan Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay at the Delhi airport on Sunday. (PTI)

New Delhi, May 25: The Prime Minister of Bhutan, Lyonchen Tshering Tobgay, and Bangladesh Speaker Shirin Sharmin Chaudhury landed here this afternoon, the first of the foreign leaders to reach New Delhi for Narendra Modi’s swearing-in ceremony tomorrow.

“Great having leaders from SAARC nations & Mauritius join us during the ceremony. Their presence will make the occasion more memorable,” Modi tweeted, ahead of the ceremony and bilateral meetings slated for Tuesday.

This is the first time that the heads of state and government of South Asian Association for Regional Cooperation (Saarc) nations have been invited to attend the swearing-in ceremony of an Indian Prime Minister.

Pakistan’s Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif had extended a similar invitation to his inaugural last June. But domestic politics had prevented Manmohan Singh from attending. India sent a special envoy.

Modi also welcomed Pakistan’s and Sri Lanka’s move to free Indian fishermen who had sailed into their waters, saying: “I welcome the step by Sri Lanka & Pakistan to release our fishermen. I welcome our fishermen brothers back home!”

On Tuesday, the first working day for the new regime after being sworn-in tomorrow evening, Modi will start with short-duration meetings from 9.30 in the morning. The meetings, to be held at Hyderabad House, will be over by 2pm, officials in the ministry of external affairs said.

“We pride ourselves on being gracious hosts and, therefore, there will be short-duration meetings on the basis of very limited number of participants between our leadership and the visiting leaders. These will be individual meetings; they will be structured on the 27th taking into account schedules of departure,” the official spokesperson for the ministry, Syed Akbaruddin, had said.

Bangladesh is being represented by its Speaker because Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina is on a scheduled visit to Japan.

Sharif, Sri Lanka President Mahinda Rajapaksa, Afghanistan President Hamid Karzai, Nepal Prime Minister Sushil Koirala, Maldivian President Abdulla Yameen Abdul Gayoom and Mauritius Prime Minister Navinchandra Ramgoolam will be among the foreign dignitaries who will attend the ceremony.

Modi said he would begin the day tomorrow “by visiting Raj Ghat & paying my respects to Pujya Bapu”.

In a protocol nightmare for officials, the Indian government will be welcoming six heads of state and government between 9.25am and 2pm tomorrow at the Indira Gandhi International Airport here. Four of the leaders — Rajapaksa, Sharif, Karzai and Abdul Gayoom — will be landing at the Palam Air Force station, while Ramgoolam and Koirala will be received at the civilian terminal.