New Delhi: It was a celebration of India in all its diversity, complexities and colour. The 63rd Republic Day unfolded on Thursday with an impressive display of armour and unmanned aerial vehicles recently added to India`s military prowess kit besides showcasing the country’s rich cultural kaleidoscope.
The highlight of this year`s Parade was the 3,000 kms-range Agni-IV missile. The intermediate range surface-to-surface ballistic missile mounted on a road mobile launcher was paraded by the Defence Research and Development Organisation.
The DRDO contingent, led by Lt Col VS Thapa, also showed new tactical battlefield support high-speed missile Prahaar and the medium altitude long endurance unmanned aerial vehicle Rustom-I.
Agni-IV, the most potent and technologically advanced in India`s arsenal, adds a new dimension to country`s capabilities in terms of strategic deterrence.
As the sun shone brightly and crowds squinted to look up at the blue skies, the flypast began with intricate aerial manoeuvres. The Indian Air Force`s (IAF) latest acquisition, the US Lockheed Martin C-130J transporter, made its debut. The culminating act was the vertical Charlie manoeuvre by a lone Sukhoi.
As the beginnings are traditionally somber, so the day started with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laying down a floral wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti to pay tribute to an unknown soldier. Soon after, a grateful nation acknowledged one of its heroes when President Pratibha Patil conferred the Ashok Chakra, India`s highest peacetime gallantry award, posthumously to young Army commando Lt Navdeep Singh, who died battling terrorists in Kashmir.
The early morning chill did not deter people along the 8-km-parade route as they gathered on both sides of the majestic Rajpath, the country`s ceremonial boulevard facing the Raisina Hills, and cheered the contingents as they went past portraying the diverse culture of the country.
The well-turned out and synchronised military and police formations led by General Officer Commanding (Delhi) Lt Gen VK Pillai marched proudly to the lilting tunes of bands through the Rajpath where President Pratibha Patil, who is the Supreme Commander of Armed Forces, took salute.
The impressive march-past was watched by Chief Guest Thai Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Defence Minister AK Antony, UPA Chairperson Sonia Gandhi, Marshal of Air Force Arjan Singh and top political and military brass.
As Thailand`s first woman Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra, the guest of honour, watched along with the President, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other dignitaries, the spectacle began with the uniformed men and women of armed and paramilitary forces marching down the famous boulevard.
Some 25,000 policemen, commandos and soldiers guarded the capital against possible attacks from militant groups as the Delhi’s sky was a no-fly zone for the duration of the celebrations, officials said.
Petals were showered on the people below as the parade drew to a close.
Amongst those at the ceremony, the annual gooseflesh moment for hosts of Indians who are glued to television year after year, were a group of 20 children from strife-torn Afghanistan who were special invitees of the Indian government.
Celebration and introspection
The states saw their own, smaller versions of the event with Chief Ministers and Governors presiding over the functions.
There were boycott calls by insurgents in parts of the country, including restive Chhattisgarh and Orissa, where Maoists hold control over large swathes of territory, and in volatile northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, but the day passed off peacefully. And even in these cynical times, when the fatigue with the government, corruption and rising prices dominates daily discourse, people came out in large numbers to celebrate the day.
In Assam, where people defied a boycott call by 12 militant groups from the northeast and where the day has been marred in the past with terror attacks, Governor Janki Ballav Patnaik called for enduring peace.
Jammu and Kashmir, where separatists in the valley had called for a shutdown, fortunately witnessed a Republic Day untouched by any untoward incident.
In a sign of peace returning, Finance Minister Abdur Rahim Rather unfurled the tricolour and took salute at the Bakshi Stadium, the site of frequent trouble in the past years.
"Democracy should be respected by everybody...," he said.
The wish was echoed by many across the land, whether at official ceremonies, schools or at private ones at condominiums and homes. The national anthem was sung with passion, patriotic songs from films were the order of the day, and laddoos and tricoloured sandwiches eaten.
Saffron, white and green were the colours of the day. Patriotism, the underlying essence. And this is the one day of the year when even the most cynical doffed their hat to that spirit.