At India’s Republic Day Celebrations 2019

At India’s Republic Day Celebrations 2019

India’s Republic Day was celebrated on January 26 to mark the day when the Indian (drafted) Constitution came into force replacing the independence one left (August 1947) behind by the colonial British power. It is a day Indians celebrate with pride and honor and pay tribute to fallen heroes and those who contributed to the Indian liberation movement. I was in the Indian capital for the celebration as a guest of the Pravasi Bharatya Divas (summit of Indians from the diaspora). It was my second experience of the Republic Day parade in the capital. And what a parade it was – a display of India’s military and technological prowess.

Republic Day in India, as other countries do in their capitals, was celebrated in grandeur in Delhi. There was a lot of pomp and ceremony. It was a magnificent parade filled with nationalist fervor and pride. The celebration took place at the capital city's Rajpath, the main thoroughfare of the seat of government, all the way to India Gate, the huge (Paris like) monument dedicated to fallen soldiers. Republic Day celebrations were also held in all of the capitals of the other states, union territories, as well as in cities across the nation. In various cities, there were cultural fairs.

India’s Republic constitution came into effect in 1950. So this year is India's 70 Republic Day. And like every preceding year, there was a parade with many floats or tableaux depicting aspects of life in India. This year’s theme was on the great Mahatma Gandhi, the iconic freedom fighter. Delhi showcased Mahatma Gandhi and his association with the national Capital and his stay at Birla House. Youths and women power were very prominent in the floats.

At the parade, the government showcased its military might as well as its rich cultural heritage and traditions along with the latest technological achievements and recent policies.  Several states, organisations and government departments also showcased their latest developmental achievements. The Republic Day parade was telecasted live on the public service stations (TV and radio) as well as several private stations.

Every year, there was a chief guest at the parade. President Barack Obama was the Chief Guest in 2016.  The rulers of ten ASEAN nations were the Chief Guests in 2018. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was the chief guest this year. He cheered the various spectacles.

With this being an election year (April and May), on the eve of Republic Day, President Ram Nath Kovind urged Indians to vote. He was the host of the parade in which all Ministers of government, MPs, and diplomats were invited.  But Prime Minister Narendra Modi was very prominent at the front row seated next to the visiting Chief Guest Cyril Ramaphosa. Ramaphosa was Nelson Mandela’s choice as a future President of South Africa. Regrettably, Mandela died in 2016 before Ramaphosa became president in February 2018.

Elaborate preparations were in place ahead of the parade especially on security as well as on the theme and the varied floats. This writer was present at one such event in addition to witnessing the grand parade in Delhi. There was strict security check. Attendees had to go through scanners. Mobile phones, cameras, and all other electronic devices (including remote control car keys) were not allowed. Official PBD guests were allowed cameras and phones.  There was traffic congestion in the parade routes. The metro subway station was closed down from 6:00 A.M for the event reopening at 2:00 PM.
The parade itself started at 10:00 AM and concluded around noon. Just before the parade, the President of India, escorted by a pose of bodyguards on horses, arrives as the host. The President is given a 21 gun salute. The Prime Minister of India lays a wreath at Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate to pay homage to those who lost their lives in war. President Ramaphosa sat the front row taking in the splendor of the parade.

The Parade was led by the divisions of the armed forces (Army, Navy, and Air Force) and border security forces as well as local police and para-military units. The finale was an air show stunt that has to be viewed in person to believe it. Among the other performances was a motor cycle daredevil act that was incredible – personnel riding motorcycles in formation without holding the handle. There was a large contingent of women including an all-woman military marching contingent. There was an all-women contingent from the Assam Rifles participated for the first time. There were several stunts on motorcycles.  Altogether, there were 22 tableaus.

The parade route was five KM long with many floats packed with revelers in rows that are dozens deep. The guests and the public cheered the spectacles (tableaux).

At the conclusion of the parade, Prime Minister Modi walked down Rajpath waving at the large crowd of tens of thousands receiving a warm reception in what can be viewed as the start of his campaign for re-election.