NEW DELHI: A 122-member Bangladesh contingent, two IAF women pilots, newly acquired multi-role fighter aircraft Rafales, troops deployed in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands and a tableau of newly constituted UT of Ladakh were among the novelties at the 72nd Republic Day parade on Rajpath on Tuesday.
However, for the first time in over five decades, the parade had no foreign dignitary as chief guest as British PM Boris Johnson cancelled his visit due to the Covid situation in his country. Also, there was no participation of military veterans and motorcycle-borne daredevils who used to be one of the parade’s main attractions in past years. Due to Covid restrictions, even the route of the marching contingents was curtailed till National Stadium instead of Red Fort. Even the size of the marching contingents was reduced from regular 144 to 96 so as to keep social distancing among personnel while masks was made mandatory for them.
Despite Covid-triggered restrictions, enthusiasm among the spectators was not missing. The armed forces showcased their latest weaponry like T-90 tanks, Brahmos missile system, Pinaka multiple launch rocket system, bridge -laying T-72 tank, integrated communication electronic warfare system and one upgraded Schilka weapon system. Some of these systems are currently deployed in Ladakh to prevent any Chinese incursion.
Two Param Vir Chakra and one Ashok Chakra awardees participated in this parade, which was led by parade commander Lt Gen Vijay Kumar Mishra, general officer commanding Delhi Area, and his second-in-command Major General Alok Kacker, chief of staff, Delhi Area.
The 122-member Bangladesh military personnel marched in two groups— one marching contingent and a military band. The marching contingent comprised personnel from three services and was led by a flight lieutenant, navy lieutenant, one Major and 3 Lt Colonels. This was the third time India hosted a foreign contingent to participate in the parade after the French troops in 2016 and UAE personnel in 2017.
Seventeen marching contingents from the armed forces, paramilitary, Delhi Police, NSG, NCC and NSS along with 15 military bands participated in the parade. The Indian Army was represented by a mounted column of 61 Cavalry, seven mechanised columns and six marching contingents.
The 172 Madras contingent from the Andamans also participated in the parade for the first time. “For the first time, any contingent from the (A&N) islands is participating in such a big event on the mainland and therefore boys are very excited. Over 95% personnel are locals who are from different tribes. Our unit, which is part of Madras Regiment, was raised for the sons of the soil and its objective is to create a robust intelligence in the area.” The contingent comprised 96 personnel, 2 JCOs and one officer, said Major Verma.
Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth, who became the first woman combat pilot to participate in the parade, took a salute in front of President Ram Nath Kovind when her IAF tableau featuring mock-ups of an LCA, a light combat helicopter and a Sukhoi fighter loaded with made-in-India missiles passed by the VVIP enclosure.
The Indian Navy’s tableau showcased models of Indian naval ship (INS) Vikrant and naval operations that were conducted during the 1971 India-Pakistan war. The DRDO showed two tableaux, one showcasing Tejas' successful take-off from aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya, and another displaying full complement of the anti-tank guided missile systems.
A total of 28 tableaux from different states and departments rolled down Rajpath. Among them was the tableau of Ladakh that made its debut in the parade. It depicted the iconic Thikse Monastery, the region’s rich cultural heritage and the vision of Ladakh to be carbon-neutral. The UP tableau displayed a model of the upcoming Ram Templeand the tableau of the Department of Biotechnology showcased the indigenous production of Covid vaccines highlighting India’s self-reliance in the fight against the pandemic. While the tableau of ministry of electronics & IT was inspired by the theme 'Digital India, Aatma-Nirbhar Bharat', the labour ministry tableau showed the segments benefiting the most from 'Labour Codes'.
The centre of attraction of the 90-minute parade was IAF's display of the country’s air prowess amid times of the LAC stand-off with China. A vintage Dakota aircraft which had flown troops to ‘save’ Srinagar from attack by tribal militia backed by the Pakistan Army in 1947 and also played a key role in Bangladesh's liberation war, also flew over Rajpath. Another IAF woman pilot Flight Lieutenant Swati Rathore got the honour to be the first woman to be part of this year’s flypast when she flew a Mi-17 V5 helicopter. A total of 42 aircraft flew in different formations but all eyes were on the Rafale fighter when it performed a “vertical charlie” at the end of the flypast. Apart from two Rafales, Sukhoi-30s, MiG-29s, Apache and Chinook choppers also drew visitors’ attention.