Military might, colours of India unfold at R-Day parade

New Delhi, Jan 26 ( A cold and foggy morning failed to dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of spectators who turned out Tuesday to witness India proudly displaying its military might and its cultural diversity at the 61st Republic Day parade.

The fog, however, meant that the customary showering of rose petals by three Indian Air Force (IAF) helicopters flying in an inverted ‘V’ formation ahead of the parade rolling down Rajpath had to be cancelled but the fly past that concludes the show went through as scheduled.

The 110-minute parade also reinforced a trend that has been evident for the past few years in that where it was once a display of India’s arms imports, the military hardware developed in the country is increasingly on display.

Thus it was Tuesday with the Arjun main battle tank, the Agni-III intermediate range ballistic missile, the Shaurya hypersonic missile, an armoured ambulance and a state-of the-art radar to name just a few, taking centrestage and vying for attention with the marching contingents drawn from the armed forces, the paramilitary forces and the National Cadet Corps.

President Pratibha Patil, who took the salute at the parade, also awarded three Ashok Chakras, the country’s highest award for gallantry, ahead of its start.

Two of the awards were posthumous – for Major Mohit Sharma and Havildar Rajesh Kumar. They were received by their wives, Major Rishima Sharma and Meeta Kumar respectively.

The third Ashok Chakra was awarded to Major D. Sreeram Kumar.

On arrival at the saluting dais at the Rajpath, along with the chief guest for the occasion, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, Patil was received by Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister A.K. Antony and the three service chiefs.

The President’s Bodyguard presented the national salute, the national anthem was played and the tricolour was unfurled.

Earlier, Manmohan Singh paid tribute to the unknown soldier at the India Gate war memorial.

Leading the parade was Lt. Gen. K.J.S. Oberoi, the general officer commanding of the Delhi area, followed as has become the norm for the past few decades, by the contingent of the 61st Cavalry, one of the very few horse-mounted active regiments in the world.

There was much the marching contingents and the massed bands that were interspersed between them had to offer: the deep green tunics of the Maratha Light Infantry contrasting with the red tunics and black trousers of the Punjab regiment, the olive green uniforms of the Gorkha Rifles and the grey tunics and dark trousers of the Assam Rifles.

Then, there was the IAF contingent in blue-grey uniforms and the Indian Navy marchers in black uniforms and white belts and leggings.

Complementing them was the camel mounted contingent and band of the Border Security Force, which is arguably unique in the world.

If the marching was impeccable, so was the music with well-loved tunes like “Deshon ka sartaj Bharat”, “Jai Bharati”, “Kadam Kadam badaey ja” and “Space flight” being essayed by the massed bands.

The arrival of the tableaux heralded the beginning of the cultural element of the parade and here too, there was an awesome variety on offer.

The Maharashtra tableau, for instance, showcased the daily life of Mumbai’s “dabbawalas” who ferry food across the city and this immediately caught President Patil’s attention and she leaned to her right to explain the concept to her South Korean counterpart.

The tableau of the ministry of youth affairs and sports focussed on the upcoming Commonwealth Games, with a model of the main sporting venue, Jawaharlal Nehru Stadium and mascot Shera.

It was next the turn of Delhi’s schoolchildren to set Rajpath alight with songs like “Vande Mataram” and an aerobic dance on global peace.

The fog had considerably lifted by now and all eyes turned upwards in eager anticipation of the fly past. They were not disappointed as a huge Il-76 transport aircraft roared into view through the haze, followed by the smaller AN-32 transports and the Dornier reconnaissance aircraft.

Thereafter, the IAF displayed its newly-acquired AWACS (airborne warning and control system) aircraft trailed by two frontline Sukhoi Su-30MKI combat jets. Bringing up the rear was a formation of Jaguar jets and three Su-30s in a “Trishul” formation, with one of them zooming straight up and the other two peeling off to the left and right.

Another Republic Day parade had ended and as the audience streamed out many wondered what next year would have in store.