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India shines in Paris as Maratha Regiment leads Bastille march

world Updated: Jul 14, 2009 23:27 IST
Shekhar Iyer
Shekhar Iyer
Hindustan Times
Heavy symbolism as Indian troops march down Paris for Bastille Day as PM and Sarkozy watch

During the first World War, as many as one lakh soliders lost their lives, fighting in France and Belgium.

Indian soldiers under British command were part of two Allied divisions that fought the Germans around the northern French town of Neuve-Chapelle in March 1915. By the time the Second World War took place, Indians’ prowess was too well known for the Allies by their actions in Africa, Syria, Palestine.

But today, when 400 Indian soliders marched down the Champs-Elysées, they added to heavy symbolism that has come to characterise Indo-French ties, under Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and French President Nicholas Sarkozy.

Today’s march was to commemorate the Indian army's association with its French counterpart during the two World Wars.

Even Singh’s presence was a special honour – for he was the Guest of Honour to mark Bastille Day, the French holiday commemorating the storming of the Bastille in 1789, marking the beginning of the French Revolution.

Sarkozy was the Chief Guest at the Republic Day last year. His invitation to Singh was a gesture of reciprocation.

France does not have the custom of inviting foreign heads of governments or states to be the Chief Guest and only on few occasions is this honour bestowed on foreign leaders.

The day officially began with French Air Force planes celebrating their 75th anniversary with an air show, after which 400 soldiers from India, lead a procession from the Arc de Triomphe to the Place de la Concorde.

Later, Army parachutists demonstrated jumps and precision landings and the Marines gave test rides on their rapid-action commando boats.

At this year's celebrations, Cambodian President Hun Sen, who is on a bilateral visit to France, was also the Guest of Honour along with German President Horst Kochler.