Thousands of people thronged Delhi's historic Red Fort on Friday to hear Prime Minister Narendra Modi's maiden Independence Day speech as he ditched the traditional bulletproof glass enclosure and reached out to the crowds.
Dressed in a traditional cream kurta-pyjama with a saffron and green turban, Modi had the crowd spellbound during his 65-minute extempore speech, in which he vowed to free the country from poverty and communalism.
The sight of Modi preparing to address the crowd without any barriers between them evoked loud applause while patriotic songs and slogans celebrating the spirit of the occasion filled the morning air.
After the address, Modi surprised many by stopping his car, getting out and breaking security protocol to freely mingle with a large number of school students who cheered in excitement at the unexpected move.
"I am very excited that Modiji came amidst us to greet all of us," said Mahesh Pal, a 14-year-old government school student.
The sense of excitement was palpable in the crowd, especially several first-timers who began lining up early to grab a seat. Police pegged the number of people inside and outside the sprawling complex at about 30,000.
"It is an honour to listen to the PM's address from the venue. We are confident that he is going to change the face of our nation and India will soon be counted among the leading countries of the world," said Sumitra Devi, a resident of east Delhi. Narendra Modi's cavalcade entered the gates of Red Fort amidst cheers while the roads of the walled city were packed with people, keeping securitymen on their toes.
"The entry was delayed because many people barged into the gates. Managing so many people was a task as everyone wanted to get in early but we had to go through the security process," said a security official stationed at the entry.