India’s powerful military punch and its rich cultural heritage were showcased at the 65th Republic Day parade on a bitterly cold Sunday, with chief guest and Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe keenly watching the 90-minute proceedings.
It was the coldest Republic Day in a decade at a minimum of 9.9 degrees Celsius, forcing spectators – commoners and dignitaries alike – to swathe themselves in layers of protective clothing.
Be it the army tanks, a scaled down naval submarine, the indigenous air force fighter jet, the marching contingents of the armed forces, the 162 riders of the Border Security Force performing a series of manoeuvres on 30 motorcycles, the diverse tableaux and folk dances by enthusiastic students, the spectators were definitely spoiled for choice as the parade unfolded.
The celebrations began with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh paying homage to the unknown soldier.
It was his 10th and last Republic Day parade in office as he has announced that he would step down after the general elections.
After laying a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial at India Gate, a World War I monument, Manmohan Singh headed back to the saluting base on the Rajpath boulevard for the colourful parade.
With clockwork precision, President Pranab Mukherjee, who took the salute, arrived in state accompanied by Abe.
The President’s Bodyguard presented the national salute, the tricolour was unfurled and the national anthem was played.
Its last notes still hung in the air when the parade commander, Lt. Gen. Subroto Mitra, rolled down the Rajpath as the spectators sat back in keen anticipation of what was to follow.
There was colour aplenty even in the military contingents – the blue and white tunics of the 61 Cavalry, perhaps the world’s oldest horse-mounted regiment, contrasting with the purple berets of the Parachute Regiment, the orange turbans of the Sikh Light Infantry and the striped green headgear of the Maratha Light Infantry.
And, if the contingents of the armed forces and paramilitary forces matched each other step-for-step, so did the music: well-loved marches like “Saare Jahan se achcha”, “Deshon ka Sartaj Bharat”, “Kadam Kadam Badaye Ja”, “Jai Bharati” and “Deshon ki Hamne Shaan Badaye” to name just a few, all vying for attention.
What was also heartening to note – and a pointer to the changing times – was a fair sprinkling of women in the military contingents.
The Indian Air Force team was commanded by a woman while the Coast Guard had two women as deputy commanders, apart from the many other women in the marching contingents.
In a first, national broadcaster Doordarshan broadcast High Definition live streaming of the Republic Day parade on the internet.
The crystal clear picture quality arrived on computers, laptops and mobile phones, barely a few seconds behind the actual proceedings.
It was a welcome development for those unable to watch it on television screens.
Just about everyone who is anyone in the national capital was at Rajpath: Vice President Hamid Ansari, cabinet ministers, Congress president Sonia Gandhi and her son Rahul Gandhi and daughter Priyanka Vadra, and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, his head wrapped in his trademark scarf. They were all there to mark the occasion.
And for good measure too. After all, be it for commoners or dignitaries, the Republic Day parade comes only once a year, so who would like to miss out on the occasion?