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India unites to celebrate 70th Republic Day

Dazzling IAF flypast, INA veterans, all-women Assam Rifles contingent do nation proud

India unites to celebrate 70th Republic Day
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New Delhi: India on Saturday celebrated our 70th Republic Day with a grand military parade and exhibition of our history, cultural diversity and strategic weaponry at Rajpath, the Capital's centrepiece boulevard, in the presence of thousands of spectators, the country's political and military brass, and foreign guests. South African President Ramaphosa was the chief guest at the 90-minute celebrations marking the anniversary of the day when the world's biggest democracy was declared a republic in 1950.

The parade began after President Ram Nath Kovind conferred the Ashoka Chakra, India's highest peacetime gallantry award, to Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, a militant-turned-soldier who laid down his life fighting a group of terrorists in Shopian in Kashmir in November. Wani's wife Mahajabeen and mother Raja Bano received the award. A total of 22 tableaux, 16 from states and union territories and six from central government ministries and departments, were part of the cultural parade, the overall theme of which was "life and ideals" of Mahatma Gandhi.

Four veterans of the Indian National Army (INA), an all-women contingent of the 183-year-old Assam Rifles marching down Rajpath and an IAF aircraft flying using a mix of traditional and biofuel on Saturday, were among the many firsts for a Republic Day. The four INA veterans, aged over 90, rode down the ceremonial boulevard in a open jeep, as a striking black and white portrait of Netaji Subhas Chandra Bose hung from the side of their vehicles. The veterans — Parmanand, Lalit Ram, Hira Singh and Bhagmal — received a round of applause from the crowd as they passed by. Maj Gen Rajpal Punia, Chief of Staff, HQ Delhi Area, said that the INA veterans participated for the first time during the parade.

Thousands of people were stunned into silence, their eyes rolled towards the clear skies and ears buzzed to the pulsating 'hum' of the Indian Air Force planes roaring above. Imaginations flew but people stood motionless. The crowd was thrilled to see the approaching 'Rudra' formation, comprising three advanced light helicopters in 'Vic' formation. Anxious children responded to the fascinating sight with a huge round of applause. Three C-130J Super Hercules roared past the helicopters, with restless people cheering and waving at the mighty aircraft used for tactical airlift and airdrop in challenging terrain. A C-17 Globemaster flanked by two SU-30 MKIs flew in globe formation at a speed of 500kmph, while five Jaguar deep-penetration strike aircraft flew in arrow-head formation.

The 70th Republic Day parade also saw a dazzling display of 'Nari Shakti' led by an all-women contingent of the Assam Rifles, which created history by walking down Rajpath for the first time. Maj Khushboo Kanwar, 30, and mother of a child, who led the contingent of the Assam Rifles, the oldest paramilitary force in the country, was brimming with pride. "Leading an all-women contingent of the Assam Rifles was a matter of great honour and pride for me. We practiced very hard...I am a daughter of a bus conductor from Rajasthan and if I can accomplish this, then any girl can fulfil her dream," she said.

But, it wasn't the only first for women, as Capt Shikha Surabhi from the Corps of Signals performed bike stunts alongside her male teammates as part of daredevils team. And, firsts were created this Republic Day not just on ground but also in air. During the flypast segment, IAF's An-32 aircraft flews in a 'vic' formation, whose lead plane was flown using a mix of traditional and biofuel for the first time during the parade, a senior IAF official said.

For the first time, Shankhnaad, a military tune composed by an Indian classical music exponent based on a poem penned by a Mahar Regiment veteran, was also played during the parade.

The Republic Day parade ceremony commenced with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wearing a yellowish orange turban, leading the nation in paying homage to the fallen soldiers by laying a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti under India Gate.

Jallianwala Bagh was the theme of Punjab tableau, which will evoke memories of the watershed moment in the independence struggle.

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