New Delhi: was a celebration of India in all its diversity, complexities and colour. The 63rd Republic Day unfolded Thursday with a grand pageant here showcasing a resurgent India’s military power and culture kaleidoscope and also millions of tricolours hoisted across the country in ceremonies big and small.
There were boycott calls by insurgents in parts of the country, including restive Chhattisgarh and Orissa, where Maoists hold control over large swathes of territory, and in volatile northeast and Jammu and Kashmir, but the day passed off peacefully. And even in these cynical times, when fatigue with the government, corruption and rising prices dominates daily discourse, people came out in large numbers to celebrate the day.
Promises were made and sacrifices acknowledged in state capitals and in New Delhi, the centrepiece of the festivities where history, tradition and modernity marry perfectly in a 90-minute ceremonial parade down Rajpath.
The beginnings are traditionally sombre and so it was Thursday with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh laying down a floral wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti to pay tribute to an unknown soldier. Soon after, a grateful nation acknowledged one of its heroes when President Pratibha Patil posthumously conferred the Ashok Chakra, India’s highest peacetime gallantry award, to young army commando Lt. Navdeep Singh, who died battling terrorists in Kashmir.
As Thailand’s first woman Prime Minister Yinluck Shinawatra, the guest of honour, watched along with the president, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and other dignitaries, the spectacle began with the uniformed men and women of armed and paramilitary forces marching down the famous boulevard.
There were camels and horses, the showcasing of India’s advanced arsenal, including India’s latest nuclear-capable strategic missile Agni-IV displayed for the first time, elaborate tableaux from states and ministries and schoolchildren dancing down the road.
As the sun shone brightly and crowds squinted to look up at the blue skies, the flypast began with intricate aerial manoeuvres. The Indian Air Force’s (IAF) latest acquisition, the US Lockheed Martin C-130J transporter, made its debut. The culminating act was the vertical Charlie manoeuvre by a lone Sukhoi.
Petals were showered on the people below as the parade drew to a close.
Amongst those at the ceremony, the annual gooseflesh moment for hosts of Indians who are glued to television year after year, were a group of 20 children from strife-torn Afghanistan who were special invitees of the Indian government.
The states saw their own, smaller versions of the event with chief ministers and governors presiding over the functions.
In Assam, where people defied a boycott call by 12 militant groups from the northeast and where the day has been marred in the past with terror attacks, Governor Janki Ballav Patnaik called for enduring peace.
Fingers were crossed in Jammu and Kashmir too where separatists in the valley had called for a shutdown.
In a sign of peace returning, Finance Minister Abdur Rahim Rather unfurled the tricolour and took salute at the Bakshi Stadium, the site of frequent trouble in the past years.
“Democracy should be respected by everybody…,” he said.
The wish was echoed by many across the land, whether at official ceremonies, schools or at private ones at condominiums and homes. The national anthem was sung with passion, patriotic songs from films were the order of the day, and laddoos and tricoloured sandwiches eaten.
Saffron, white and green were the colours of the day. Patriotism the underlying essence. And this is the one day of the year when even the most cynical doffed their hat to that spirit. (IANS)