At Rajpath, many firsts in the shadow of a pandemic
- India put on display its war machines at a time when the country is locked in a tense border stand-off with China.
e participation of a woman fighter pilot in the Indian Air Force (IAF)’s tableau, and the appearance of Rafale fighter jets were among several significant firsts in the 72nd Republic Day celebrations on Tuesday as the country showcased its military might and exhibited its cultural hues at festivities held under the shadow of the Covid-19 pandemic in the Capital.
From T-90 tanks and BMP-II infantry combat vehicles rumbling down Rajpath to fighter jets performing some breathtaking manoeuvres in the skies, to indigenous rockets and missiles, India put on display its war machines at a time when the country is locked in a tense border stand-off with China.
Besides, 17 tableaus from states and Union Territories (UT) depicted the cultural heritage of the country in curtailed celebrations organised in adherence to strict safety protocols and social distancing norms in view of the pandemic. The tableau of Uttar Pradesh showcased the heritage of the ancient town of Ayodhya, and the replica of the Ram temple that is being built there, as well as stories from the epic Ramayana. The Delhi tableau had an image of the Red Fort and the redevelopment of Shahjahanabad in the Old City.
Another highlight was a 122-member contingent of the Bangladesh Armed Forces that took part in the march at Rajpath as part of the celebrations linked to 50 years of that country’s liberation. Also, the tableau of UT Ladakh made its first appearance this year. There was no chief guest at the Republic Day parade this time — a first since 1966. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was to be the chief guest, cancelled his visit to India owing to rising Covid cases in his country.
While nine tableaus from different Union ministries and paramilitary forces took part in the Rajpath parade, six from the defence ministry, too, attended the event. Rafales, Sukhoi-30s and MiG-29s — fighters that are part of the IAF’s muscular posture in the Ladakh theatre — were among the 42 aircraft in the fly-past, a key attraction. The Rafale jets took part in the parade for the first time.
Other military equipment displayed included the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, Pinaka multi-launcher rocket system, bridge layer tank T-72, Samvijay electronic warfare system and Schilka weapon system.
The IAF tableau featured one of India’s first women fighter pilots — another first in the high-profile event. Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth was part of the tableau that showcased mock-ups of the light combat aircraft, light combat helicopter and the Sukhoi-30. Also, among those who flew the Mi-17 V5 choppers that showered petals at the parade was Flight Lieutenant Swati.
This year, the parade was shorter and involved fewer participants because of the Covid-19 pandemic. The shortened route of the parade meant it ended at National Stadium, instead of Red Fort. Only a fourth of the usual number of spectators were allowed at Rajpath — not more than 25,000 spectators, compared to over 100,000 people who usually turn up for the parade. Children below the age of 15 and those above 65 were not allowed among the visitors at the venue.
Before the parade began, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tributes to India’s fallen heroes by placing a wreath at the National War Memorial at India Gate. Defence minister Rajnath Singh, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh were present at the memorial.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu and several cabinet ministers were among the dignitaries who witnessed the parade.
The parade was led by Lieutenant General Vijay Kumar Mishra, general officer commanding, HQs Delhi Area. The march past included Param Vir Chakra and Ashok Chakra awardees (India’s highest wartime and peacetime gallantry awards, respectively), an army mounted column of 61 Cavalry, and marching contingents of the Jat Regiment, the Garhwal Rifles, the Mahar Regiment, the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles and Bengal Sappers.
The Indian Navy’s tableau depicted the navy’s role in the 1971 war with Pakistan that led to the creation of Bangladesh. Photos of Maha Vir Chakra awardees were displayed on the rear part of the trailer, while the sides showed murals depicting the surrender ceremony.
The fly-past featured a vintage Dakota aircraft — used for dropping paratroopers during the 1971 war — that flew in formation with two Mi-17 V5 helicopters, marking the golden jubilee celebrations.
The IAF’s C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, C-130J Super Hercules special operations plane, Apache AH-64E attack helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission choppers, too, took part in the fly-past.