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Former external affairs minister says India needs to maintain good relations with both ASEAN nations and China.

New Delhi: As the Modi government prepares for grand Republic Day celebrations with an unprecedented 10 heads of states and governments from the ASEAN nations in attendance Friday, former external affairs minister Salman Khurshid said that while “optics are important in themselves…one can’t just keep doing this unless there is substance to it”.

“One hopes this goes beyond optics…sending out a very clear message is very comforting and encouraging…But you can’t just keep doing this unless there is substance to it,” Khurshid told ThePrint.

In a first, the Republic Day celebrations will have 10 chief guests — all from ASEAN nations. This comes at a time when India is trying to position itself as a major power in the region, against the backdrop of a rapidly rising China’s might, giving rise to questions about what message this event would send out.

“We’ve had gatherings of ASEAN leaders here but not like this on an occasion. So it is packed with a huge amount of potential,” Khurshid added.

He, however, stressed that a balance needs to be maintained by making both China and ASEAN happy.

“This is not something that will go unnoticed anywhere, leave aside China. It is a complex situation,” Khurshid said. “We are not exactly wanting to sound indifferent to China…How do we balance all this — give comfort to ASEAN and yet have a good relationship with China.”

The BJP-led NDA government’s euphoria over grand celebrations aside, an ISIS threat to Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte has brought to the fore the mammoth logistical and protocol effort of the entire exercise as well.

“Any big event is tough. Particularly now when unwholesome forces look for opportunities when they can get into the public eye and perform, as it were, their unwholesome work at that time,” said Khurshid, who was external affairs minister from October 2012 to May 2014 under the Congress-led UPA government.

“It is a very tough responsibility. But I am glad our country feels confident we can manage it,” he added.

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