United colours of India unfurl again on 61st Republic Day
From Jammu and Kashmir to Kerala, from Gujarat to Assam, Indians celebrated a peaceful 61st Republic Day on Tuesday, undaunted by terror threats, Maoist shutdowns, separatist boycotts or even the morning fog that blanketed New Delhi where thousands congregated for the grand parade of military might and cultural diversity.
It was the annual gooseflesh moment even for those who chose to stay at home and watch the colours of India unfold on their television screens in direct telecasts of the parade from New Delhi.
Held against the backdrop of presidential palace Rashtrapati Bhavan, the parade that goes down the Rajpath boulevard and culminates at Red Fort eight kilometres away was as always the cynosure of national and global attention.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh started the proceedings by paying tribute to the unknown soldier at India Gate before reaching the saluting dais to greet President Pratibha Patil and chief guest for the occasion, South Korean President Lee Myung-bak.
It was a solemn start to the spectacle of colour that was to follow with Patil, India's first woman president, first giving away three Ashok Chakras, the country's highest award for gallantry. Two of these were posthumous.
Then the extravaganza, including a flypast, began.
The cold and foggy morning had failed to dampen the enthusiasm of the thousands of spectators who turned out to witness India proudly displaying its military might and cultural melange.
The 110-minute parade also reinforced a trend that has been evident for the past few years in that where it was once a display of India's arms imports, the military hardware developed in the country is increasingly on display.
Thus it was Tuesday, with the Arjun main battle tank, the Agni-III intermediate range ballistic missile and the Shaurya hypersonic missile to name just a few, taking centrestage and vying for attention with the marching contingents drawn from the armed forces, the paramilitary forces and the National Cadet Corps.
There was also the contingent of the 61st Cavalry, one of the very few active horse-mounted regiments in the world, and a unique camel mounted squad and band of the Border Security Force.
The tableaux from the states highlighted vignettes from lives in the states and the country. The Maharashtra tableau, for instance, showcased the daily life of Mumbai's "dabbawalas" who ferry food across the city and this immediately caught President Patil's attention and she was seen explaining the concept to her South Korean counterpart.
Chief ministers and governors presided over functions in their states, as did district collectors and Indian ambassadors and high commissioners in their respective countries.
In Orissa, where thousands defied a Maoist boycott call to participate in the function, Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik hoisted the tricolour at Cuttack despite a threat e-mail that he would be killed if he went to the town.
There was similar defiance in other Maoist stronghold states like Chhattisgarh, Bihar and Jharkhand.
In the northeastern states of Assam, Tripura and Manipur, a 17-hour shutdown called by separatist rebels was not enough to keep people away.
"Despite a boycott call by militants, it is heartening to find people coming to attend Republic Day functions across the region," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said in the state's main city Guwahati.
The run-up to the Republic Day was peaceful compared to previous years, with an estimated 50,000 security personnel deployed in the three northeastern states to foil any terror attacks.
Jammu and Kashmir was also incident free with Governor N.N. Vohra doing the honours in Jammu and the function in Srinagar being presided over by Finance Minister Abdul Rahim Rather.
Vohra asked separatist leaders to "settle problems through dialogue" and said they must "seriously reflect on the untold losses suffered by people in the past years and recognise the futility of continuing on the path of confrontation" in the state.
There was some tension though with mobile services being jammed in many parts of Jammu and Kashmir, which was on high alert following terror threats.
Officials said services had been jammed following inputs that the militants might use mobile phones to trigger explosive devices or pass on directions on the phone.
But the threats fell on deaf ears this Republic Day.
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