Olympians in limelight at I-Day celebration in Red Fort

Wednesday 18th August 2021 06:09 EDT

For a second year in a row, Covid-19 protocols were in place at the Independence Day celebrations at Red Fort, but that did not dampen the spirits of those in attendance. The customary cheer from the schoolchildren sitting in the forecourt overlooking the ramparts was missing yet again: the space was occupied by NCC cadets and the participants in the recently concluded Tokyo Olympics, instead.

The Olympic medal winners and their coaches, meanwhile, were the special guests, seated on one side of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, as he delivered a nearly one-and-a-half-hour-long speech, describing his vision for India in the coming years. There was a six-feet gap between each seat on the lawns. A sanitising kit, a face shield and a hand towel placed underneath were symptomatic of the times. At the entrance, each invitee was asked to sanitise their hands and to keep their face masks on.

With the Olympians occupying the seats up on the ramparts, several VVIPs were, instead, provided a separate enclosure on the lawns. In the forecourt, around 500 NCC cadets and nearly 240 Olympians took the seats, while a special block on the south comprised “Corona warriors”.

The fort was decked up even more than usual to mark the 75th Independence Day. While the I-Day theme is generally depicted by schoolchildren sitting directly in front of the Prime Minister, this year, the number 75 was etched on the walls of Red Fort itself. The steel containers placed in front of the fort for security had mural paintings on the inside, depicting India’s glorious past.

For the first time, the celebrations also saw the use of Indian Air Force helicopters, with two Mi 17 1V choppers showering flower petals on the invitees in an “Amrut” formation, taking many by surprise. Many stood up to shoot videos or take selfies as petals rained upon the fort.

PM Modi, dressed in a traditional white kurta, a blue half-jacket and a white and red stole, adorned a saffron turban with red patterns and a long trail. He first paid homage to Mahatma Gandhi at Rajghat, before his cavalcade entered through the Lahori Gate entrance. There was a round of applause from the crowd as the PM Modi proceeded to the saluting base. There, he was given a general salute by the Inter-Services and Delhi Police Guard. Modi then inspected the Guard of Honour. He entered the ramparts of Red Fort, where he was greeted by defence minister Rajnath Singh, minister of state Ajay Bhatt, Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat and the three service chiefs.

At 7.30 pm, the Prime Minister hoisted the national flag, as a Navy band consisting of 16 men played the national anthem, while a 21-gun salute occurred simultaneously.

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