Like in the past, the Republic Day parade was a display of India’s military might and cultural diversity, with defence systems ranging from high-end fighter aircraft to indigenous tanks and missiles rolling down the Rajpath, followed by performances and tableaux featuring the cultural heritage of the nation.
What was different this year was the candid admission in the commentary during the parade that is watched by millions that the Delhi gangrape has shaken the national conscience and has spurred the government into action.
A little before chief guest Bhutan King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck arrived, the role of the social media as well as the protests were mentioned in detail. “If the anger on India’s streets was one thing, it was equally unbridled online, on social media, where a separate and equally undeniable narrative played before the nation. In this, was born a great new strength, a power that has now come to be recognised and respected,” said the prepared script read out by the commentators, in a rare comment on national matters at a Republic Day parade.
This came a day after President Pranab Mukherjee spoke on the issue in his address to the nation. However, at the parade itself it was acknowledged that the government and civil society are working to give quick justice and more “infallible social values” in the wake of the incident. Overhauling the “national mind set, at every level and at all costs” was listed as the most challenging task.
The recent outrage followed by the beheading of an Army soldier on the LoC was also spoken about at the parade and the role of the armed forces in maintaining a “dignified silence” was lauded. “The message from the top brass of our military couldn’t be clearer. India will not tolerate such breaches of trust and decency,” the commentary said.
The mood was lightened after the parade began in earnest after a 21-gun salute and much acclaimed flypast by Mi 17 V 5 choppers. The march past began with a drive through by the three surviving Param Vir Chakra winners, followed by eight Ashok Chakra winners, including Maj Gen Cyrus Pithawalla, the first one with the honours to reach the rank of a two-star General.
Among the Army systems on display were the Arjun tank, the BrahMos weapon system, the Pinaka multiple rocket launcher system and the Advanced Light Helicopters. The Naval tableau featured the INS Vikramaditya, the Russian origin aircraft carrier that has long been delayed and is expected to now enter service this year. The Air Force showcased its new upcoming inductions, including the C 17 Globermaster III and the Airborne Early Warning and Control Aircraft.
The biggest system on display was the 5000 km range Agni V nuclear missile that was test fired last year in April. While several of the marching contingent from the armed forces to the police and paramilitary received good applause, as well as the tableau displays of states and government departments, the biggest cheer of the crowd was reserved for the motorcycle display team of the Army Service Corps that is nicknamed ‘Tornadoes’.