India's military prowess and multi-hued images of the country's rich cultural diversity and achievements in various fields were on display at the majestic Rajpath on Tuesday during 67th Republic Day parade which was graced by French President Francois Hollande as the chief guest.
Thousands of people on both sides of the imposing Rajpath, India's ceremonial boulevard facing the seat of power Raisina Hills, braved the winter chill and cheered loudly as the marching contingents and tableux went past them.
The national capital, particularly the Central and New Delhi areas, were brought under unprecedented security blanket as thousands of personnel kept a hawk-eye vigil to thwart any untoward incident. There were intelligence inputs that terror groups may target some important installations in the city.
Hollande was seated between President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi who wore a marigold coloured 'safa'(turban). Modi was seen explaining things to Hollande on several occasions during the one-and-a-half-hour-long event. This year the duration of the parade has been curtailed from more than two hours to 90 minutes.
A French military contingent also marched down the Rajpath, a first by any foreign armed force. In 2009, an Indian contingent had also participated in France's annual Bastille Day parade.
Apart from India's missile firing capability T-90 'Bhishma' tank, Infantry Combat Vehicle BMP II (Sarath), Mobile Autonomous Launcher of the BrahMos Missile System, Akash Weapon System, Smerch Launcher Vehicles, the highlights of the parade also included a canine squad.
The synchronised military and police contingents led by General Officer Commanding (Delhi), Lt General Rajan Ravindran marched proudly to the lilting tunes of the bands through Rajpath where Mukherjee, the Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, took the salute from a specially erected dais.
Earlier, Hollande, who is on a three-day state visit, arrived with Mukherjee and was received by Modi who introduced him to the three services chief -- the army, the air force and the navy.
Alongside Hollande, the fifth French president to attend the celebrations, the parade was watched by Vice-President Hamid Ansari, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress president Sonia Gandhi, BJP president Amit Shah and the country's top political and military brass, besides the diplomatic community.
Minutes before the parade began, Modi, Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar and the three service chiefs laid wreaths at 'Amar Jawan Jyoti', the war memorial at the India Gate where an eternal flame burns in memory of those who laid down their lives defending the frontiers of the nation.
Before the start of the ceremonial parade, Mukherjee presented the Ashok Chakra (Posthumous), highest peacetime gallentry award, to Lance Naik Mohan Nath Goswami of 9 Para (Special Force) for his bravery in fighting with terrorists on the intervening night of September 2/3 last year in Haphruda forest at Kupwara district of Jammu and Kashmir. The award was received by his wife Bhavna Goswami.
A massive ground-to-air security apparatus was put in place in the national capital. Commandos with light machine guns were deployed at 10 strategic locations and anti-aircraft guns remained positioned at vantage points in the capital.
The entire region of Central and New Delhi had nearly 50,000 security personnel drawn from Delhi Police and central security forces guarding every nook and corner.
The unfurling of the tricolour by the President and playing of the national anthem were followed by a customary 21-gun salute.
After a gap of 26 years, an Army dog squad drawn from the Remount Veterinary Corps took part in the parade, along with their handlers, adding a special charm to the occasion.
Another attraction was the colourful Border Security Force Camel Regiment consisting of 56 camels. For the first time the parade saw an ex-servicemen tableau, displaying the role of veterans in the nation building.
An Indian Air Force tableau with the theme 'Humanitarian Assistance and Disaster Relief Operations' showcased the IAF's rescue and relief operations during floods in Uttarakhand and Jammu and Kashmir, besides its role in evacuating people in Nepal when that country was hit by a devastating earthquake in April last year.
This year the Indian Navy's tableau had the theme 'Empowering India through Maritime security and Indigenisation.'
The tableau displayed flight deck operations on the new aircraft carrier 'Vikrant' under construction at the Kochi Shipyard Ltd and the indigenously constructed submarine 'Kalvari' having a 'Made in India' tag on them.
The marching contingents of Army included horse-mounted columns of the 61st Cavalry, the Parachute Regiment, the Corps of Signals, the Rajput Regiment, the Garhwal Rifles, the Assam Regiment and 11 Gorkha Rifles.
The marching contingents of paramilitary and other auxiliary civil forces included those from the Border Security Force, the Assam Rifles, the Indian Coast Guard, an all women contingent of the Central Reserve Police Force, the Railway Protection Force, the Delhi Police, the National Cadet Corps and the National Service Scheme.