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January 26, 2000
India parades Kargil success on Republic Day
Amberish K Diwanji in New Delhi
India's golden jubilee Republic Day parade went off without a hitch today. Even the rain that poured down on Delhi last evening, threatening to disrupt the celebrations, stayed away and warm sunshine bathed the vast audience that had gathered alongside Rajpath, the long road that links Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate.
With fear of terrorist strikes, security was extremely tight. Buildings near and even those overlooking Rajpath were sealed off yesterday itself. Vehicular movement was restricted and policemen along with armed forces personnel were literally all over the place.
The gate pass to the parade stated that the viewers should be seated by 0930 hours IST, but till the last minute people kept pouring in.
And if ever the Republic Day parade had a theme, it was Kargil this time. Everything, from the armed forces to the tableaux on display evoked memories of India's victory in the high mountains along the Line of Control in Kargil.
The celebrations began with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee laying a wreath at Amar Jawan Jyoti. He then drove up the podium to await the arrival of the President.
President K R Narayanan arrived in his black Mercedes Benz, accompanied by his 48 mounted bodyguards, part of India's oldest army regiment, raised way back in September 1773 at Varanasi.
After getting off the car, the President walked up to the specially erected podium covered by bullet-proof glass. Security was at its highest since inside this podium were seated, besides the President and the First Lady, the Nigerian president, the vice president, the prime minister, the defence minister and two chiefs of staff. With the naval chief, Admiral Sushil Kumar, recovering from a bypass surgery, the navy was represented by its vice chief, Vice Admiral Vijay Jacob.
The President awarded four Param Vir Chakras and one Ashok Chakra on the occasion. The awards, PVCs for gallantry displayed in the Kargil war and the Ashok Chakra for bravery in the ongoing fight against terrorists in Kashmir, were given out immediately after the national anthem was played.
First to collect the PVC was Gopichand Pandey on behalf of his son, Lieutenant, acting Captain, Manoj Kumar Pandey. Next were Havildar Yogendra Singh Yadav, whose left arm was still in a sling from wounds received during the Kargil war, Havildar Sanjay Kumar, and G L Batra (father of Captain Vikram Batra). Last up the podium was the father of Sudhir Kumar, who was honoured with the Ashok Chakra.
Just before the march past began, four helicopters - MI-8s that played a crucial role in the Kargil war - flew past showering rose petals on the audience. Each chopper carried a flag - the first being the Indian flag and the other three the flags of the army, the navy, and the air force.
The march past began immediately after, led by parade commander Major General Surinder Kumar Awasthy, General Officer Commanding, Delhi Area. He was followed by his deputy Brigadier Rajeshwar Singh.
The 61 Cavalry, a regiment that has the distinction of leading one of the world's last cavalry charges in history when it captured the post of Haifa in World War I, was the next to march in.
The 61 Cavalry was followed by another mounted contingent of the Army Supply Corps. The ASC, though mounted on horses today, had used mules every effectively in the Kargil war.
And in what was to be the pattern during the march past, following the commander Captain Mehar Virk was Captain Urmila Nain, "a lady officer of the Corps."
After the horses, came the modern version of the cavalry, the mechanised columns led by the Main Battle Tank (MBT) Arjun of the 43 Armoured Regiment.
Next came men from the 106 Medium Regiment carrying 155 mm FH 77B Howitzer, Bofors to the layman. It was the 155 mm howitzer with an awesome range of 30 kilometres that had helped defeat Pakistan in the Kargil war. The Pakistanis only had the 130 mm guns, whose range was no match for the howitzers.
The guns were followed by the Prithvi missile, mounted on two huge trucks. Manning the missile units were men from the Regiment of Artillery.
Next came the 514 Air Defence Regiment with the Tunguska air defence weapon system; 234 Armoured Engineer Regiment with engineer mine ploughs that are used to detect and clean up mines; the 656 Engineer Bridge Unit with the AM 50 Bridge, an assault briding equipment; the 14 Signal Group with the digital tropo system for long-range telecommunication; and, finally, the 5 Mechanised Infantry (14 Kumaon Regiment) in their infantry combat vehicle, the BMP II.
They were followed by Paras or the para-commandos in their first appearance in a Republic Day parade. The parachute troops with their distinctive maroon berets and some of them in their scuba equipment, caused much interest among the land-locked Delhiites. They were followed by snow mobiles and mine-protected vehicles.
The snow mobiles had created a stir in the Ministry of Defence in mid 1998. The story goes that a couple of bureaucrats had questioned the need for snow mobiles for Indian soldiers. An incensed George Fernandes, defence minister, had dispatched the babus to the Siachen heights to let them learn, first hand, the difficulties that soldiers face daily. The snow mobiles were purchased shortly thereafter.
After the mechanised troops had rolled down Rajpath, came the marching contingents interspersed with bands drawn from various regiments.
Leading the marchers was a contingent of the Indian Military Academy, followed by the Armoured Regimental and Artillery Centre Band.
Just behind them, marching in perfect rhythm was the Brigade of Guards, India's first integrated regiment founded by Field Marshal K M Cariappa.
The Punjab Regiment was led by Major Arun Awasthy, son of parade commander S K Awasthy, also from the Punjab Regiment.
After another band comprising the Madras Engineers and Punjab Regimental Centre, came the Grenadiers Regiment, led by Captain Balwan Singh of the 18 Grenadiers. Captain Balwan Singh has been awarded a Maha Vir Chakra (MVC), the second highest bravery award for his valour in capturing Tiger Hill during the Kargil war.
Like the Grenadiers Regiment, several other marching units were led by men who had shown exemplary courage in Kargil and won awards for the same.
Then came the Jat Regiment; a band constituting the Mechanised Infantry and the Army Medical Corps Centre; the Sikh Regiment; the Dogra Regiment; a band of the Rajput Regimental Centre and the Garhwal Rifles Centre; the Bihar Regiment; the Mahar Regiment; and a band of the Jammu & Kashmir Rifles and the Maratha Light Infantry.
Now, once more marching down the Rajpath was another recent MVC winner, Major Sonam Wangchuk, hero of Chorbatla leading the brave Ladakh Scouts, which played a vital role in Kargil.
As the Ladakh Scouts moved past, there came the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry, India's youngest regiment but which already boasts of a PVC; a band from the 14 Gorkha Training Centre and the 11 Gorkha Regiment & Rifles Centre; the 14 Gorkha Training Centre in their Australian bush hats worn at a rakish angle; a band of the Jammu and Kashmir Light Infantry and the Bengal Engineering Group and last, the 105 Infantry of the Territorial Army (Rajputana Rifles).
Bringing up the finale of the Indian army's march past was the Kargil tableau, a model displaying the mountains and Indian soldiers preparing for an attack. A cheer went up in the crowd as the tableau rolled past slowly.
After the army, it was the turn of the Indian Navy. Leading the naval section was a contingent comprising the three commands of the navy, followed by the navy band and the Marine Commandos.
The last, called the Marcos, were participating in their maiden Republic Day parade, and are considered among the finest in the world. Much of their work has so far been kept a secret, some of which is slowly emerging now.
Finally, it was the turn of the Indian Air Force. The IAF was led by a band that played a new composition, 'Tiger Hill'. The Band was followed by an air force marching contingent. Then came the MI-17 helicopter, which had played a sterling role in the Kargil war, atop a truck, followed by the MiG-21 BIS, MiG-27, and last, the Mirage 2000. The aircraft again drew a round of applause.
Behind the air force was one of India's most lethal weapons, the Agni II, an inter-mediate range missile. This huge missile, that seemed almost as long as a marching contingent, drew another ferocious round of applause.
After the armed forces came the paramilitary forces, including the BSF Camel Contingent and the BSF Camel Mounted Band. The latter figure in the Guinness Book of World Records for their amazing talent of riding and playing music simultaneously.
Another paramilitary force that caught the public's imagination was the Mahila (Women's) Contingent of the Central Reserve Police Force, led by Assistant Commandant Indrani Yadav.
After the paramilitary and National Cadet Corps, followed the tableaux of the different states and government departments. If some of the tableaux were trite - for instance the Assam tableau showed tea - others were more interesting, such as the Andhra Pradesh tableaux 'Vision 2020' that showed farmers using computers.
The Delhi tableau and the Jammu and Kashmir tableau saluted the Kargil martyrs, while Uttar Pradesh celebrated the 600th anniversary of the birth of Kabir, one of India's greatest saints.
The tableaux were followed by school children from across India in a dazzling display of the country's cultural diversity.
Towards the end of the 51st Republic Day parade were two events, both spectacular in their own right. While the Border Security Force's Trick Riders did generate a lot of excitement, the loudest applause was reserved for the fly past.
It began slowly with the huge transport aircraft IL-76 accompanied by two AN-32s and two Dorniers droning overhead.
But then came the famed Vic or 'V' formation of fighter aircraft. Flying in at 780 kilometres per hour (the speed of sound, which means you hear them only when you see them!), SU-30s zoomed across the sky at just 500 metres.
And the piece de resistance, a SU-30 did the 'Vertical Charlie'. Moving in at 780 km/ph in his Sukhoi, Squadron Leader Nirmal Singh Jamwal pulled up into the sky before the President's box, and zoomed upwards doing a few rolls along the way. The crowd went berserk.
As the band once again struck up the national anthem, the President departed accompanied by his bodyguards signalling the end of the Republic Day parade.
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