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Nation celebrates 71st Republic Day

India exhibits military prowess and cultural diversity at grand Republic Day parade

New Delhi: India on Sunday celebrated its 71st Republic Day with a grand display of military prowess, vibrant cultural diversity and socio-economic progress on the majestic Rajpath where thousands of people, besides the country's top political and military leadership and foreign dignitaries witnessed the annual parade.

Brazilian President Jair Messias Bolsonaro, who was the chief guest for this year's ceremony, watched the dazzling parade at the historic avenue in the national capital as President Ram Nath Kovind took the salute, with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vice President Venkaiah Naidu and a host of other leaders in attendance. There were several firsts in the celebrations this year, including the prime minister paying homage at the National War Memorial and the tri-service formation. Anti-satellite weapon system developed under Mission Shakti, newly-inducted stealth attack helicopter Apache and transport chopper Chinook, and artillery gun system 'Dhanush' were among the key military assets exhibited for the first time.

The 90-minute extravaganza, symbolic of national pride, left the spectators transfixed as soldiers from the three services, paramilitary and others marched down the central boulevard on a sunny winter morning. The military band played the national anthem with a 21-gun salute in the background as President Kovind unfurled the tricolour at the Rajpath before the start of parade, which also included mechanised columns, gravity-defying formations by CRPF's all-women motorcycle team, multi-hued floats, cultural performances by school students and a flypast in which around 40 aircraft took part.

From depicting Goa's 'Save the frog' campaign and 'Back to village' programme of Jammu and Kashmir, which participated in the parade for the first time as a Union Territory, to Kullu Dusshera festival in Himachal Pradesh, Rath Yatra in Odisha and Iyyanar deity statue in Tamil Nadu, 22 tableaux with varied themes rolled down the Rajpath in coruscating colours. Forty-nine children -- 18 girls and 31 boys -- honoured with the Pradhan Mantri Rashtriya Bal Puruskar for their exceptional achievement were greeted with applause as they were driven in decorated jeeps. Students from different schools presented performances that showed the positive effects of Yoga, the different influences that have shaped Garba, the most popular folk dance of Gujarat, the culture of "Bauls", a group of mystic minstrels from Bengal comprising of both Vaishnava-Hindu and Sufi Muslims, and Rajasthan folk dance.

Women power too was on full display during the celebrations. Captain Tania Sher Gill, a fourth generation Army officer, led an all-men marching contingent of the Corps of Signals.

Women personnel of the Central Reserve Police Force (CRPF) performed jaw-dropping stunts as their motorbikes raced down the Rajpath.

Several Union ministers, including Home Minister Amit Shah, Defence Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister S Jaishankar, former prime minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, senior BJP leader L K Advani, BJP president J P Nadda, Lok Sabha Speaker Om Birla, Chief Justice of India S A Bobde and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal were among those present. The grand finale of the parade was a spectacular flypast which commenced with the 'Trishul' formation, comprising three ALH helicopters in 'Vic' formation. This is for the first time that a "tri-service formation" took part in the Republic Day.

Team MP

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