x Abu Dhabi, UAEWednesday 26 July 2017

Millions gather in New Delhi for parade

India celebrated its 63rd Republic Day yesterday with a vast parade showing off the country's military might and cultural diversity.

NEW DELHI // India celebrated its 63rd Republic Day yesterday with a vast parade showing off the country's military might and cultural diversity.

Traditional dancers and colourful floats representing each Indian state streamed through New Delhi as crowds gathered to watch the spectacle.

An array of military hardware, including a missile capable of carrying the country's nuclear warheads, formed a large part of the eight-kilometre procession.

The parade commemorates the day in 1950 when India adopted a new constitution, completing its transition from British colony to sovereign nation.

India's president, Pratibha Patil, who is also the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, unfurled the national flag, saluted the troops and synchronised military and police formations marching to the tunes of their respective bands.

Contingents included the Gorkha Rifles, the Parachute Regiment and the camel-mounted border security forces who patrol the India-Pakistan desert borders in Gujarat and Rajasthan.

In a speech on the eve of the celebrations, Mrs Patil said India now had "increasing influence" and "steady economic growth", but she added that there was "tremendous work to be done to move forward on our social and economic agenda".

Every year, the president is joined by a visiting head of state. On Thursday, Mrs Patil watched the parade with Thailand's first female prime minister, Yingluck Shinawatra.

Along the parade route through the heart of New Delhi, people gathered to cheer on both sides of the city's wide Rajpath, a path that leads from the Rashtrapati Bhawan, the Indian president's official residence, to the majestic India Gate and the city's ceremonial boulevard.

The start of the parade was marked by a fly-past of four Mi-17 helicopters, showering petals on the spectators.

The winners of various gallantry awards started the march, including 21 children driving past in jeeps, who were selected for the National Bravery awards.

The Agni-IV missile, which can launch a one-tonne nuclear warhead was on display for the first time. The missile was tested in November as part of a military programme to build nuclear-tipped ballistic missiles for intercontinental use.

Nuclear, biological and chemical purification systems were also on display.

India has the world's fourth largest military and the world's largest standing army with 1,129,900 active personnel and 960,000 reserve personnel.

A tight security ring was in place around Rajghat during the parade.

Anti-aircraft guns and snipers were positioned on rooftops and helicopters hovered over the parade route.

An estimated 25,000 policemen, soldiers and 160 closed-circuit cameras were installed along the parade path and the nearby Red Fort, according to the Press Trust of India.

In Mumbai, reports said 40,000 policemen were deployed across the city, the target of several high-profile militant attacks in recent years, including the most recent in July.

Security was also stepped up in various parts of the country where separatist insurgent groups are active, including the north eastern state of Assam.

In Kashmir, a separatist group, the All Parties Hurriyet Conference, led by Syed Ali Gilani, declared yesterday a "Black Day" to protest against what it claims is the occupation of Kashmir by Indian forces.

sbhattacharya@thenational.ae


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