Josy Joseph in New Delhi
Under tight security and a sanitised sky, and in the absence of most military contingents, India put up a lacklustre Republic Day parade on Saturday morning before largely empty public galleries along Rajpath.
Most of the galleries were empty as tightened security, the terrorist threat and the absence of a display of military power kept citizens away.
The parade, which lasted about 90 minutes, did not have a single marching contingent from the army, navy or air force because of the mobilisation along the Pakistan border.
The air force flypast was limited to an Mi-8 helicopter formation at the beginning of the parade and a Sukhoi-30MKI fighter formation at the end.
The entire parade was reflective of the tense times. Venezuela's President Hugo Chavez, who was slated to be the chief guest, pulled out at the last minute owing to the India-Pakistan standoff. Mauritius President Cassam Uteem replaced him.
The morning's ceremonies began with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee, Defence Minister George Fernandes and the three service chiefs paying tribute at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at the India Gate. Bugles sounded The Last Post as arms were reversed after the wreaths were laid.
As the parade got under way, the commentator told the assembly, "At present, our forces are deployed on the frontiers and hence there will be only limited participation by them in this parade."
The only military presence, besides that of the senior officers and those involved in the logistics, was the band drawn from the Army Service Corps Centre and 17 Rajputana Rifles, led by Subedar Major Bijoy Kumar and Subedar Surjit Singh, the pipes and drums band of the Jat Regimental Centre and the Jammu & Kashmir Light Infantry Centre, and the navy and air force bands.
President K R Narayanan and the chief guest, President Uteem, arrived in magnificent fashion, escorted by 46 personnel of the presidential bodyguard on coloured mounts.
As Narayanan unfurled the Tricolour, the 81 Field Battery of the 12 Field Regiment presented a 21-gun salute from the legendary 25-pounders of World War II vintage.
A formation of four Mi-8 helicopters flew past carrying the national flag and the ensigns of the three services, showering petals over the venue.
The President then presented the country's highest peacetime gallantry award, the Ashok Chakra, to four personnel posthumously.
Naik Rambeer Singh Tomar of the 26 Rashtriya Rifles was given the award for his daredevil single-handed search of a house in Jammu & Kashmir in which terrorists were hiding. He killed four of them before being gunned down.
Matbar Singh Negi and Jagdish Prasad Yadav, both members of the watch and ward staff at Parliament House, and Kamlesh Kumari of the Central Reserve Police Force were given the Ashok Chakra for their bravery during the terrorist attack on Parliament House on December 13.
The parade, led by Major General N S Pathania, general officer commanding, Delhi area, was devoid of the usual pageantry, brilliant tableaus and symbolic military might.
Past winners of the Param Vir Chakra and Ashok Chakra followed the parade commander. Noticeable was the absence of Captain (honorary) Bana Singh, who had led the heroic capture of a post in Siachen in 1987. The post is now named for him.
The parade also had its usual attraction, the 61st Cavalry, the world's only surviving cavalry.
The Defence Research and Development Organisation exhibited its Intermediate Range Ballistic Missile Agni II, which has the longest range of all Indian missiles and is believed to be deployed with the army since last month.
Nishant, the indigenously developed remotely piloted vehicle, too was on display.
Paramilitary contingents were part of the parade, including the CRPF Mahila Contingent and the Border Security Force's camel contingent, the only one of its kind in the world. The senior division boys of the National Cadet Corps appeared for the first time in combat fatigues.
As usual, several states exhibited tableaux showcasing their regional heritage and achievements.
Winners of this year's national bravery awards for children were paraded on elephants. There were 12 girls and 13 boys, among them Master Surjeet Singh and Master Amreek Singh, who confronted terrorists in their village in Jammu & Kashmir.
The Geeta Chopra Award was presented to the late Kumari Prem Kanwar of Rajasthan who died trying to save four other children from drowning.
The Sanjay Chopra Award was given to the late Master Nikhil Singh of West Bengal who also died trying to save his friends from drowning.
Several schools from Delhi and regional cultural centres from around the country presented pageants and dance programmes.
The Janbaaz team of the BSF presented daredevil acts on motorcycles, including one sequence in which 29 personnel rode seven motorcycles.
Kamlesh Kumari is first woman to get Ashok Chakra
Militants blow up Doordarshan transmitter in Kashmir
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