Thousands gathered in New Delhi amid tight security yesterday for India’s annual Republic Day parade, a pomp-filled spectacle of military might featuring camels and daredevil stunt riders, with French President Francois Hollande the chief guest.
A contingent of French infantry in India for joint military exercises led the march down the capital’s central Rajpath avenue, the first time foreign troops have ever taken part in the parade.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi invited Hollande in a show of solidarity with France after terrorists in Paris last November killed 130 - recalling a 2008 assault on Mumbai that killed 166.
The two countries signed on Monday a pact to buy 36 French-built Rafale fighter planes, but the two leaders said there was still work to do to finalise financial terms after months of talks.
They also agreed to deepen co-operation on counter-terrorism in the wake of the Paris attacks and a deadly siege this month on an Indian Air Force base near the Pakistan border.
The mood yesterday was more celebratory, with Modi - sporting a gold turban that rivalled the spectacular military headgear on display - and Hollande chatting as they sat side by side in a bulletproof glass enclosure.
An estimated 10,000 spectators braved thick smog and air quality levels classified as hazardous on the US embassy website to watch the display, the highlight of annual celebrations of the birth of modern India.
Delhi is the world’s most polluted capital and levels of PM2.5 - the tiny particles that can enter the bloodstream - frequently reach 10 times the World Health Organisation’s safe limit.
But the skies remained dry, unlike last year when chief guest US President Barack Obama was forced to shelter under an umbrella throughout.
The two-hour showcase of military might and cultural diversity included everything from tanks and state-of-the-art weaponry to camels and traditional dancers.
The mounted camels of the Border Security Force - an annual highlight - put in an early showing, decorated in brightly coloured caparisons.
Traditional dancers representing some of India’s diverse regional cultures performed on colourfully decorated floats showcasing selected states.
A dog squad drawn from the Army’s Remount Veterinary Corps returned to the parade after a gap of 26 years to perform a march past wearing striped coats in their unit’s colours.
They were followed by motorbike stunt riders performing a human pyramid, another annual tradition, before the grand finale of the event, a fly-past by fighter jets.
The celebrations began with Modi driving to the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial to the Unknown Soldier at India Gate and laying a wreath in honour of countless Indian soldiers who have died in battles since World War I.
Modi then drove up to the saluting base to receive Presidentg Pranab Mukherjee and Hollande.
The President’s Bodyguard presented the national salute, the tricolour was unfurled and the national anthem was played to set the tone for a rather poignant moment - the posthumous presentation of the Ashok Chakra, the country’s highest gallantry award in peacetime. It was presented this year to the widow of Lance Naik Mohan Nath Goswami of the Parachute Regiment, who laid down his life while fighting terrorists in the Kashmir Valley last September.
India launched a nationwide security crackdown in the lead-up to the celebrations, which mark the adoption of the country’s constitution on January 26, 1950.
Counter-terror police arrested a group of suspected militants and seized bomb-making material in a series of nationwide raids last week, and some 50,000 police, army and paramilitary forces were deployed across the capital yesterday.
It was the fifth time a French president has been chief guest, the greatest honour India can bestow on a foreign leader.
Hollande left Delhi later in the day at the end of a three-day official visit that began in the northern city of Chandigarh.
Across the country too, governors and chief ministers unfurled the national flag and took salute from military and police units. The celebrations went off peacefully everywhere.
LEAVE A COMMENT Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked*
Face masks compulsory in Mumbai, Thane, Pune
Inventor drives home the message with corona car
Virus hotspots sealed off in Delhi, Uttar Pradesh
Monkeys, elephants, dogs reclaim streets in lockdown
Indian inventor revs up corona car to drive home lockdown message
State leaders hesitate to end lockdown as cases surge
Govt eases drug export ban after Trump threat
TikTok, Facebook asked to remove users spreading misinformation
Scammers try selling world's tallest statue as pandemic boosts India's cyber crime