Obama soaks in R-Day spectacle, gives thumbs-up for BSF stuntmen

  • Zia Haq, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Jan 26, 2015 19:00 IST

Always a spectacle and feast for the eyes, the Republic Day parade this year was grander, glossier and special – and one with many firsts, most notably the presence of US President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama.

Despite light rains and chilly winds, enthusiastic crowds – some walking several kilometres due to restrictions on driving – filed in early on Monday to the wet stands alongside the country's most iconic boulevard: Rajpath, the main venue.

Border Security Force (BSF) motorcycle specialists perform during the Republic Day. (Ajay Aggarwal/HT Photo)

Obama swept into the parade venue in his armour-plated limousine The Beast around 9.55am, shortly after Prime Minister Narendra Modi arrived after paying homage at Amar Jawan Jyoti, the war memorial at India Gate.

That the show of solidarity between the world's two largest democracies and their leaders had resonated deeply among ordinary Indians was amply clear. Stepping out of their vehicle, Obama – in a black-buttoned trenchcoat – and Michelle waved to a delirious, shrieking crowd as cellphones went up for clicks.

On Sunday, Obama and Modi announced the start of a new relationship that marked significant deepening of ties and cooperation across sectors, from a nuclear deal to defence and high-tech collaborations. And addressing a joint news conference, the two leaders called each other by their first names, signalling the ease in their relationship.

Minutes before the Obamas, Modi donning a colourful traditional headgear had arrived to similar shouts. President Pranab Mukherjee, vice-president Hamid Ansari and his wife and other dignitaries took their seats in a special climate controlled enclosure, along with the Obamas.

President Obama looked enthralled and PM Narendra Modi chin-up proud, as a military and cultural juggernaut rolled down in a Rio-like carnival covering 8 km.

The Obamas smiled, waved and appeared immersed in the cultural pomp and pageantry, as schoolchildren performed traditional dances, men and women in uniform marched and bands played popular military tunes. The flow of 25 tableaux and floats depicting themes from the states brought out the flavours of the country.

Border Security Force (BSF) motorcycle specialists perform during the Republic Day.(Ajay Aggarwal/HT Photo)

The showstopper was Janbaaz, the Border Security Force's crack team of motorcycle stuntmen, who performed for the dignitaries and drew a thumbs-up from an excited US president. The paramilitary force is celebrating its Golden Jubilee this year.

There were several firsts at this year's marchpast in step with Modi's penchant for novelty. The closing flypast – a series of spectacular formation flights – had a new aircraft: the topline MiG 29K, a Russian fighter jet, which is said to have elevated India's naval capacities from a defensive position to one of supremacy.

Obama and Michelle craned their necks to catch a glimpse of the sky show through the mist and low clouds.

Obama is likely to have been surprised by another new entrant, the P-8I – a maritime surveillance aircraft India bought from Boeing Co in 2013. Military analysts see the P-8I as a variant of the US navy's P-8A Poseidon.

The parade concluded with three Russian-made Sukhoi jets performing the Trishul formation where the jets split up to form a trident with their contrails.

This year, for the first time, three all-women contingents from the army, navy and air force took part in an exquisite march past, following PM Modi's instructions to make "empowered Indian women" as the leitmotif of this year's parade.

Beyond the symbolism of Obama's presence at the Republic Day parade, the high-level talks and a full-on display of close ties is a key message to an assertive China, analysts say.

Watch: Highlights of Republic Day parade

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