India's military prowess and the country's diverse cultural heritage were on display at the 67th Republic Day parade on the magnificent Rajpath boulevard here on Tuesday at which visiting French President Francois Hollande was the chief guest. For the first time, a contingent from the French 35th Infantry Regiment was given the honour of leading the marching contingents and it performed with panache, preceded by a pipes and drums band and saluting in a rather unusual style with the right hand held straight across the chest.
The celebrations began with Prime Minister Narendra Modi driving to the Amar Jawan Jyoti memorial to the Unknown Soldier at India Gate and laying a wreath in honour of the countless Indian soldiers who have died in battles since World War I. Modi then drove up to the saluting base to receive President Pranab Mukherjee and President Francois Hollande.
The President's Bodyguard presented the national salute, the tricolour was unfurled and the national anthem was played to set the tone for a rather poignant moment – the posthumous presentation of the Ashok Chakra, the country's highest gallantry award in peacetime. It was presented this year to the widow of Lance Naik Mohan Nath Goswami of the Parachute Regiment, who laid down his life while fighting terrorists in the Kashmir Valley last September. The emotion on Mukherjee's face was visible as he presented the medal and the citation to Goswami's widow. The French apart, there was much that was different this time around. The marching contingents were fewer, as were the massed bands.
Then, instead of a marching continent of ex-servicemen, there was a tableau dedicated to them in the first part of the parade, an army dog squad with handlers made an appearance after 26 years, and the camel-mounted troopers of the Border Security Force made up the rear element of the parade's military element. In another break with tradition, the young recipients of the National Awards for Bravery came up towards the end, followed by the children's pageant, a daredevil motorcycle display by the Corps of Signals, and a grand flypast by fighters, heavy-lift transports and helicopters of the Indian Air Force.
Vice President Hamid Ansari, the three service chiefs, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, cabinet ministers, a host of dignitaries and a group of women achievers seated in a special enclosure were on hand to witness the hour-and-half long parade.