India blends military might and cultural diversity on R-Day (Roundup)January 26th, 2009 - 4:03 pm ICT by IANS
New Delhi, Jan 26 (IANS) Blending military might with the country’s rich cultural diversity, India Monday celebrated its 60th Republic Day with a grand and colourful parade in the capital and similar but smaller parades all over the country.Under a gentle winter sun, thousands of soldiers as well as paramilitary and police personnel marched from Vijay Chowk near the Rashtrapati Bhavan or presidential palace to the Mughal-built Red Fort seven kilometres away here in an annual event that began on a modest scale in 1950 when India unveiled its constitution.
For the first time, there was no prime minister on the Rajpath, the boulevard that links the Rashtrapati Bhavan and India Gate, a World War I monument. In the absence of Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, in hospital after undergoing a heart surgery Saturday, Defence Minister A.K. Antony officiated. Manmohan Singh, 76, watched the parade on television from his hospital bed, doctors said.
Marching along the soldiers on Rajpath were hundreds of school students who presented stirring songs and dances denoting the varied cultures of India.
President Pratibha Patil, India’s first woman president, took salute as supreme commander of the armed forces. Kazakhsthan President Nursultan Nazarbayev was the chief guest and watched the 150-minute spectacle with keen interest, occasionally applauding the marchers.
There was hushed silence as Patil gave away posthumous Ashok Chakra awards, the country’s highest gallantry award in peacetime, to 10 widows and a mother of soldiers and policemen who died fighting terrorists in Mumbai, New Delhi and Jammu and Kashmir. A sombre Patil patted each of them on their shoulders and shared a few comforting words with them.
This is the first time such a large number of Ashok Chakras have been awarded on a single occasion.
The ceremony could not have been more apt as Monday marked two months since the Nov 26-29 Mumbai terror carnage that claimed over 170 lives. Six of the Ashok Chakras were given to security personnel who died at the hands of the Mumbai terrorists who India says were Pakistanis.
If the Indian Army showcased its lethal T-90 and T-72 main battle tanks, armoured personnel carriers, bullet-proof vehicles and other heavy equipment, the Indian Air Force displayed a mock up of its soon to be acquired Phalcon airborne warning and control systems (AWACS).
The increasingly assertive Indian Navy displayed a model of its newly acquired INS Jalashwa troop carrier that can transport into action a full battalion of 900 soldiers.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation displayed a range of missiles, including the nuclear-capable Agni-III that has a range of over 3,000 km and the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile jointly developed with Russia.
The parade began with a contingent of the 61st Cavalry, the only such horse-mounted regiment in the world. Overhead, four Mi-17 helicopters showered rose petals on the spectators along Rajpath. The crowds on both sides of the roads extended all the way up to the Red Fort.
Marching contingents of the army, navy and air force besides paramilitary and police forces stood out for their colourful uniforms and headgear providing a vivid contrast of reds, greens, blues, blacks and khaki.
Military bands followed them, some from individual regiments and some a combination of units playing the much loved “Saare Jahan Se Aacha” as well as “Deshon ka Sartaj Bharat”.
Bringing up the rear were 16 tableaux depicting an eclectic canvas ranging from the fauna of Assam’s Kaziranga National Park to Kerala’s Onam festival.
Kazakhstan President Nazarbayev appeared to be captivated — as were thousands of others — at the sight of army personnel forming a human pyramid on nine motorcycles, holding aloft the Indian flag.
The grand finale was the flypast by the Indian Air Force. A variety of aircraft ranging from helicopters to combat jets zoomed across the sky and literally brought the spectators to their feet.
The Republic Day was also celebrated under tight security in all states and union territories, from the terror-hit city of Mumbai to the placid Andaman and Nicobar Islands.
Maharashtra Governor S.C. Jamir paid tribute to the victims of the Mumbai terror attack at a function at the Shivaji Park in Mumbai.
Jammu and Kashmir Rural Development Minister Ali Mohammed Sagar urged Manmohan Singh to resume the peace process with Pakistan stalled since the Mumbai killings.
In Orissa and Chhattisgarh, thousands of people defied boycott calls from Maoists to attend the Republic Day functions. The official functions drew large crowds all over the northeast despite boycott calls by militants.
Jharkhand Governor Syed Sibte Razi voiced unhappiness over the state’s poor economic development in the eight years since it has been carved out of Bihar, blaming political instability for this.