Indian Armed Forces' 'Akash' missile system during the Republic Day Parade 2022, at Rajpath in New Delhi, Wednesday, Jan. 26, 2022. (PTI Photo/Vijay Verma)
NEW DELHI: India celebrated its 73rd Republic Day on Wednesday with the iconic parade at Delhi's majestic Rajpath showcasing its military prowess and cultural pageantry. A flypast by 75 aircraft and helicopters was the highlight of this year's parade as the 75th anniversary of Independence is being observed as "Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav" across the country.
The 90-minute parade witnessed many firsts, including India’s first woman Rafale fighter jet pilot, Shivangi Singh, as part of the Indian Air Force tableau. Showcased at the parade were also the Centurion tanks, PT-76 tank, 75/24 Pack howitzer and OT-62 TOPAZ armoured personnel carrier that played a major role in defeating Pakistan in the 1971 War.
India in 2021 had celebrated the Swarnim Vijay Varsh (Golden victory year) to commemorate the country’s win over Pakistan in the 1971 War that led to the creation of Bangladesh.
The mechanised columns of the Army showed one PT-76 tank, one Centurion tank, two MBT Arjun MK-I tanks, one OT-62 TOPAZ armoured personnel carrier, one BMP-I infantry-fighting vehicle and two BMP-II infantry fighting vehicles.
Horse-mounted soldiers of the Indian Army’s 61 Cavalry Regiment, the only active horsed cavalry unit in the world currently, was the first marching contingent at the parade. A team of women daredevils from the Border Security Force got the adrenaline rushing as they performed gravity-defying motorcycle stunts. They also sent out a message of girl education and women empowerment. The "Seema Bhawani" motorcycle team received applause and appreciation from the spectators.
The parade also showcased Indian Army uniforms and rifles that have evolved over the decades since the country’s independence. Three marching contingents of the Indian Army wore uniforms and carried rifles from previous decades, while one contingent wore the new combat uniform and carried the latest Tavor rifles as a part of "Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav". There were a total of six marching contingents of the Army at the parade. Each marching contingent comprised 96 soldiers instead of the usual 144 so that proper attention can be given to Covid-19 protocol.
This was also the first time that the parade began half an hour later than usual, due to low visibility and fog. The ceremony began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi leading the nation in paying homage to the martyrs by laying a wreath at the National War Memorial, a monument to the soldiers who have made supreme sacrifice for the country.
The PM had not put on his Republic Day traditional turban. He had worn an Uttarakhandi cap with an image of the brahmakamal, the state flower, and also sported a stole from Manipur. He uses brahmakamal whenever he offers prayers at the Kedarnath shrine in Uttarakhand. Turbans have previously been a highlight of the PM’s sartorial choices at Independence Day and Republic Day events.
There was no chief guest at the parade this year. Swachhagrah, frontline workers, autorickshaw drivers, construction workers and labourers who prepared the majestic tableaux were among special guests invited for this year’s parade. The ceremonial event was scaled down this time in view of the coronavirus pandemic, with spectators’ size drastically cut to 5,000 from the 25,000 last year. In the pre-pandemic times, over one-lakh spectators used to witness the parade.
From members of contingents to spectators, everyone wore masks and maintained strict "do gaz ki doori" (distance of two yards). Only double vaccinated adults and children above the age of 15, who have taken at least one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine, were allowed to enter the venue. Children below 15 years were not permitted to attend. Participants also received white caps with "Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav" printed on them.
In a floral tribute to Subhas Chandra Bose on his 125th birth anniversary, the CPWD’s tableau depicted Netaji and warriors of the Indian National Army during the parade. Martyrs and Independence Movement was the theme of the poll-bound Punjab tableau, which prominently featured Bhagat Singh and Udham Singh, both martyrs of the Freedom Movement from the state.
As the celebrations came to a close at the Rajpath, the President’s Bodyguard (PBG) escorted President Ram Nath Kovind back to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. What made the occasion special was the presence of Virat, the special horse in the PBG, who retired from his years-long service after the parade.
Virat was the mount of President’s Bodyguard Commandant Colonel Anup Tiwary and took part 13 times in RD parades. Mr Kovind, Mr Modi and defence minister Rajnath Singh patted and bid farewell to the magnificent horse after the parade. Virat was awarded the Chief of the Army Staff Commendation on the eve of Army Day on January 15. Virat is the first horse to receive the commendation for exceptional service and abilities.