Kashmir braveheart’s wife, mother receive Ashok Chakra at dazzling Republic Day parade
President Ram Nath Kovind on Saturday awarded the country’s highest peacetime gallantry award posthumously to Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani at the 70th Republic Day parade that showcased India’s growing military might and captured its cultural extravaganza on a bright sunny morning.
Thousands of people at Raj Path stood up and applauded the outstanding courage of the braveheart who fronted an operation in which six terrorists were killed in Kashmir last November.
Wani’s wife Mahajabeen, accompanied by his mother Raja Banu, received his Ashok Chakra, the first for a soldier from Kashmir.
Both women stood on the dais in front of the President with folded hands, their heads lowered as the parade commentator read out the brave man’s citation, giving goosebumps to not only those in attendance but also the millions watching the spectacular event on their televisions at home.
What makes the Ashok Chakra even more special is that Wani was a surrendered militant who became a soldier. He belonged to an army unit raised 15 years ago with surrendered militants as an experiment to rewrite the rules of counter-terror operations in Kashmir.
Lieutenant General Asit Mistry, General Officer Commanding, Headquarters Delhi Area, led the parade that saw Russian-origin T-90 tanks and BMP-II infantry combat vehicles, tracked self-propelled K9 VAJRA-T artillery guns and surface mine clearing systems roll down the road, as parade chief guest South African President Cyril Ramaphosa, Prime Minister Narendra Modi and other dignitaries watched from the stage and frequently clapped.
Apart from the K9 gun, the Indian Army’s M777 ultra-light howitzers, imported from the United States, also debuted at the parade – both being the first artillery weapons to be inducted after the Bofors scandal exploded in the late 1980s.
Private sector defence major Larsen & Toubro and South Korean firm Hanwha Techwin are supplying 100 K9 guns to army under a $720 million contract. The artillery gun has a range of 40 km. Also, the army is inducting a total of 145 M777 howitzers as part of a $750-million contract with the United States.
The US is supplying 25 ready-built weapons and the remaining 120 howitzers will be produced in the country under the Modi government’s ambitious Make in India initiative.
The first-ever participation of veterans from Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA) and marching contingents led by women officers were some of the other highlights of the 90-minute parade. The INA was represented by four veterans, all of whom were aged between 95 and 100 and seated in an open Gypsy. Among them, Bhagmal (100) from Manesar, was the oldest participant in the parade.
Women were well represented. The parade featured an all-women contingent of Assam Rifles, a woman officer leading the Army Service Corps marching squad and a lady officer who became the first and only woman to be a part of the Corps of Signals motorcycle stunt team. A total of 16 smartly-turned out marching contingents and an equal number of bands took part in the parade. The Gorkha brigade’s marching contingent was represented at the parade for the first time.
States and different government departments were represented by 22 colourful tableaux, with the theme being 150 years of Mahatma Gandhi. Three Param Vir Chakra and five Ashok Chakra awardees also took part.
It was hard to miss Congress President Rahul Gandhi and Union minister Nitin Gadkari seated next to each other and often engaging in a conversation in the front row of one of the VVIP enclosures. BJP chief Amit Shah was seated three seats to Gandhi’s right. The seating arrangement had triggered a controversy last year as Gandhi was allocated a seat in the fourth row.
The Indian Air Force’s flying display towards the end of the parade was the cherry on the cake and cheers and applause erupted from the spectators as roaring fighter jets dived and rolled in the skies carrying out a string of breathtaking manoeuvres. These included Su-30s, Jaguars and upgraded MiG-29s.
In another first, one of the AN-32 transport planes taking part in the fly past used aviation turbine fuel blended with 10% bio-jet fuel. Extracted from Jatropha plant seeds, the use of bio-jet fuel could lead to significant savings for the IAF in the coming years.
After the parade ended, Modi walked along the Raj Path and waved to the crowds, with his security detail following him. Earlier, the PM placed a wreath at Amar Jawan Jyoti where he was greeted by defence minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the three service chiefs.