Seventy years since the birth of its Constitution, India celebrated Republic Day on Saturday with a grand annual parade at Rajpath amid heavy security cover. The ceremonial parade rolled down the majestic Rajpath with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in attendance as the chief guest along with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Ram Nath Kovind, Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman among several other leaders. Ramaphosa is the second South African president, after Nelson Mandela, to attend the grand event as its chief guest.
The event started with PM Modi paying his tributes to the martyrs by laying a wreath at Amar Jawan Jyoti after which President Kovind unfurled the national flag with the national anthem being played in the accompaniment of booming 21 gun salute in the background. The well-coordinated gun salute by seven cannons of 2281 Field Regiment starts with the first note of the national anthem and ends with the last. Special clocks are used to measure time in smaller units for precision.
Soon after this, President Kovind awarded the Ashoka Chakra — India’s highest peacetime gallantry honour — to Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, a militant-turned-soldier who was martyred while fighting a group of six militants in Shopian in Kashmir in November. Wani is the first Kashmiri to be conferred the Ashoka Chakra and the award was received by his wife and mother.
This year, the overall theme for the Republic Day celebrations was the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and tableaux of many states, themed on him. The highlights of the parade were four Indian National Army (INA) veterans, aged over 90 years, taking part in the parade, among the many firsts for a Republic Day parade as well as ‘Nari Shakti’ (women power) which was on full display on the ceremonial boulevard with an all-woman Assam Rifles contingent creating history this year by participating for the first time in the parade, which was led by Maj Khushboo Kanwar. Contingents of the Navy, Army Service Corps and a unit of Corps of Signals (transportable satellite terminal) were led by women officers too, as the crowd cheered.
At Rajpath, India showcased its military might as well as its rich cultural heritage and traditions. The military might was on display, with the artillery gun system M777 American Ultra Light Howitzers, recently acquired from the US, and K9 Vajra, a self-propelled artillery gun, showcased on Rajpath, being new additions this year.
Several states, organisations and government departments also showcased their achievements through 22 tableaux this year. The tableaux of Sikkim, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, West Bengal, Tripura, Goa, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Uttarakhand were displayed on the occasion. The Governors unfurled the tricolour in their respective states to mark the day.
The event ended with the flypast which began with the Rudra formation comprising three ALH Mk IV WSI helicopters and featured Sukhois, MiG fighter jets. The parade also witnessed a ‘vic’ formation of An-32 aircraft, whose lead plane flew on a mix of traditional and bio-fuel for the first time. It also showcased 33 people on 9 motorcycles forming a human pyramid, lead by Subedar Major Ramesh. A lone woman officer exhibited bike stunts as part of the iconic team.
Scores of people had reached to watch the parade. The Indian Army’s T-90 tank, Ballway Machine Pikate (BMP-II/IIK), Surface Mine Clearing System, 155 mm/52 Calibre Tracked Self-propelled Gun (K-9 Vajra), Transportable Satellite Terminal, Troop Level Radar and Akash Weapon System were also showcased at the parade.
Several senior leaders, including Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and former prime ministers Manmohan Singh and HD Deve Gowda, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal were present on the occasion at Rajpath. Also, continuing his tradition of donning colourful turbans at the Republic Day and the Independence Day, PM Modi wore a yellowish orange headgear with a red tail and traditional kurta pajama along with the trademark Nehru jacket.
SWAT women commandos, mobile hit teams, snipers are among the varied layers of security under which the national capital was placed for the Republic Day celebrations. Elaborate measures, including the deployment of anti-aircraft guns, were put in place to secure the airspace.