India showed its rich cultural diversity and military might as well as achievements in diverse fields at the 66th Republic Day parade in Delhi which had US President Barack Obama as the chief guest for the first time. Obama spent more than two hours on an outdoor viewing platform during the show. Obama nodded in approval as tanks and rocket launchers rolled down the parade route and helicopters ferrying Indian flags flew overhead. Obama was seated next to Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, donning a multicoloured 'bandhej safa' (turban), as the two leaders chatted and enjoyed the annual spectacle. A smiling US President was seen nodding in appreciation on several occasions.
As the nearly two-hour-long parade, showcasing India's 'unity in diversity' marched down the Rajpath in drizzle and overcast skies, thousands of spectators gathered along the route and cheered in joy. New Delhi was wrapped in unprecedented security blanket. In a departure from tradition for the chief guest at the Republic Day parade, Obama arrived in his own bomb-proof vehicle, 'the Beast,' at Rajpath. A highlight of this year's parade was the display for the first time of the recently acquired long-range maritime surveillance and anti-submarine P-8I aircraft and the long-range advanced MiG-29K fighter plane.
The synchronised military and police contingents led by General Officer Commanding (Delhi), Lt General Subroto Mitra marched proudly to the lilting tunes of bands through Rajpath where President and Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces Pranab Mukherjee took the salute from a specially erected dais.
Alongside Obama, the ceremonial parade was watched by his wife Michelle, Vice-President Hamid Ansari, Modi, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, UPA chairperson Sonia Gandhi and the country's top political and military brass, besides the diplomatic community.
The unfurling of the tricolour by the President and playing of the national anthem were followed by a customary 21-gun salute. The parade began shortly after Mukherjee and Obama arrived at the saluting base separately at the ceremonial boulevard - Rajpath. Among the main attractions of the ceremonial parade were 25 colourful tableaux representing India's cultural and linguistic diversity as also signifying the vision of the future India as envisaged by the current dispensation. Another attraction at the annual extravaganza was the contingents of all-women officers of the three Services marching for the first time on the Rajpath.
Another military attraction was the display of Army version of indigenously developed surface-to-air Akash medium range missile and Weapon Locating Radar, both by Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO). Indian Army's laser-guided missile capable T-90 Bheeshma tank, infantry combat vehicle BMP-II (Sarath) followed by T-72 with Trawl too proved to be a major draw in the mechanised columns.
These were followed by 'Pinaka' multiple barrel launcher system. The Mobile Autonomous Launcher of BRAHMOS missile system, three dimensional tactical control radar, satellite on the move communication platform and rapidly deployable satellite terminal (RADSAT) followed next.
An Indian Air Force tableau with the theme "50 years of 1965 War" was next in line at the majestic Rajpath, dazzling VIPs, VVIPs and spectators alike.
In keeping with the Indian Navy's theme "Ensuring Safe Seas for a Resurgent Nation" - the Naval Tableau displayed a few of its frontline assets in all four dimensions of maritime warfare. The second Naval tableau, titled "Bharatiya Nau Sena aur Nari Shakti", represented the four Indian Navy women officers who braved vagaries of the seas and participated in an ocean voyage from Goa to Rio-de-Janeiro in Brazil on board Indian Naval Sailing Vessel 'Mhadei'.
The marching contingents of paramilitary and other forces included those from BSF, Assam Rifles, Coast Guard, CRPF, Indo -Tibetan Border Police, CISF, Sashastra Seema Bal, Railway Protection Force, Delhi Police, National Cadet Corps and National Service Scheme. The camel-mounted band of BSF and the ex-servicemen marching contingent too added to the attraction.
A total of 13 Army bands, one band each of Air Force and Navy, eight band of paramilitary forces including Camel-mounted band of BSF and one band each of NCC boys and girls played martial music for the parade.
One of the most breathtaking event was the manoeuvres by air force jets and daredevil motorcycle performance 'Jaanbaaz' by BSF personnel.
See also Pages 15, 16, 17 and 18 for more R-Day reports