Sanitiser kits, ample social distancing and a masked Guard of Honour is how the 74th Independence Day was marked at the Red Fort on Saturday.
At 6:15 am, as guests trickled in, apart from strict security checks, placards asking them to maintain six-feet distance greeted them. On their chairs lay ‘sanitiser kits’ comprising a mask, a pair of gloves and a bottle of sanitiser, along with a hand towel. Those who have grown up on TV visuals of thousands of attendees seated close to each other on August 15 were in for a surprise, as one-arm distance was maintained between each chair.
A Delhi Police sub-inspector, manning a row, said, “We have created enclosures so that people do not bump into each other, and chairs have been placed at a distance in a bid to take precautions in the wake of Covid-19.” As per Defence Ministry sources, each year at least 26,000-30,000 invites are sent out — the number was slashed to 4,000 this year. A police officer said, “Only VVIPs, ministers and dignitaries are in attendance this year.”
Apart from the crowd, also missing from the celebrations this year were the children. Each year, at least 2,000 children from across schools add to the festive air. This year, only 500 members of the National Cadet Corps (NCC), between the ages of 14 and 20 years, clad in orange and green clothes with masks firmly in place, were in attendance.
As Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived, patriotic poems played in the background. Here, too, there was a difference — the verses this year emphasised on similarities between freedom fighters and corona warriors, such as ‘Jeetega Corona se, yeh Hindustan humaara’.
At 7.30 am, Modi hoisted the Tricolour. In his speech, he said, “Our doctors, nurses, paramedical staff, ambulance staff, sanitation workers, police force and several others have continuously worked to fight the coronavirus.”
Each year, several people travel long distances to watch the flag hoisting at Red Fort but this Saturday morning, they had to rely on TV and social media instead.
In attendance was 12-year-old Arhan Jain, son of BJP councillor Nirmal Jain, who said, “I woke up early to come here as I wanted to listen to the PM’s speech and watch the colourful balloons be released in the air.”
From Wazirpur Vidhan Sabha, there was Ashutosh Gupta (39), a BJP party worker. “This is my first time here and it was so well-organised… It wasn’t as colourful as it is every year but that’s understandable.”
Security rings of SWAT teams were placed strategically at the venue. Along with the invitation, guests received an advisory that asked people with symptoms to refrain from attending the event. Security personnel advised guests to move on markings that were placed on the ground in order to maintain distance.
Each year, hundreds queue up outside Red Fort, hoping to find a way inside, or to at least catch a glimpse of the celebrations inside. Due to several restrictions, only a few hung around this morning.
Among them was Kuldeep Kumar (35) who runs a small kachori shop outside Hanuman Mandir. He said, “I have never been inside but I come here every year to try and see what’s happening inside… This year, it’s very quiet. There are no children.”
Similarly, Geeta Kumari (20) and her younger sister got on a bus and travelled from Narela to Red Fort. But to their dismay, were not allowed in. “Someone in the area told us that we may be given entry but this time, due to Covid, the security personnel are stricter,” said Geeta.
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