From T-90 tanks and BMP-II infantry combat vehicles rumbling down Rajpath to fighter jets performing some breathtaking manoeuvres in the skies to flaunting indigenous rockets and missiles, India on January 26 showcased its military might to the world during the 72nd Republic Day parade held at a time when India and China are locked in a border standoff in the Ladakh sector.
Military equipment displayed at the parade included the BrahMos supersonic cruise missile, Pinaka multi-launcher rocket system, bridge layer tank T-72, Samvijay electronic warfare system and Schilka weapon system.
The Indian Air Force’s Rafales, Sukhoi-30s and MiG-29s—fighters that are part of the IAF’s muscular posture in the Ladakh theatre—were among the 42 aircraft that took part in the Republic Day flypast, which is the highlight of the parade. The Rafale jets took part in the parade for the first time.
Before the parade began, Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid tributes to India’s fallen heroes by placing a wreath at the National War Memorial at India Gate. Defence minister Rajnath Singh, chief of defence staff General Bipin Rawat, army chief General Manoj Mukund Naravane, IAF chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria and navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh were present at the memorial.
President Ram Nath Kovind, Vice-President M Venkaiah Naidu and several cabinet ministers were among the dignitaries who witnessed the parade.
The parade was led by Lieutenant General Vijay Kumar Mishra, general officer commanding, HQs Delhi Area. The march past included Param Vir Chakra and Ashok Chakra awardees (India’s highest wartime and peacetime gallantry awards, respectively), a marching contingent and band of the Bangladesh armed forces, an army mounted column of 61 Cavalry and marching contingents of the Jat Regiment, the Garhwal Rifles, the Mahar Regiment, the Jammu and Kashmir Rifles and Bengal Sappers.
The Bangladesh marching and band contingent was invited to take part in the parade as part of celebrations linked to 50 years of the liberation of that country. The flypast featured a vintage Dakota aircraft that flew in formation with two Mi-17 V5 helicopters, marking the golden jubilee celebrations. Dakotas were used for dropping paratroopers during the 1971 war.
The Indian Navy’s tableau depicted the navy’s role in the 1971 war with Pakistan. Photos of Maha Vir Chakra awardees were displayed on the rear part of the trailer, while the sides showed murals depicting the surrender ceremony and Operation X undertaken by the navy in that war.
The IAF tableau featured one of India’s first women fighter pilots. Flight Lieutenant Bhawana Kanth was part of the tableau that showcased mock-ups of the light combat aircraft, light combat helicopter and the Sukhoi-30.
The IAF’s C-17 Globemaster III transport aircraft, C-130J Super Hercules special operations plane, Apache AH-64E attack helicopters and CH-47F (I) Chinook multi-mission choppers also took part in the flypast.
The parade was shorter and involved fewer participants because of the Covid-19 pandemic. Also, only a fourth of the usual number of spectators were allowed at Rajpath. The shortened route of the parade saw it end at National Stadium instead of Red Fort. Not more than 25,000 spectators were allowed, compared to over 100,000 people who usually turn up for the parade. Children below the age of 15 were also not permitted at the parade.
There was no chief guest at the parade this year. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson was to be the chief guest but he cancelled his visit due to the spread of a mutant strain of the virus that causes Covid-19 in the UK.
This was the first time in at least five decades that the Republic Day celebrations, seen as a high point in India’s diplomatic calendar, did not have a chief guest. The last time the parade did not have a chief guest was in 1966.