New Delhi, January 26:

India showcased its military hardware and cultural diversity on Tuesday during the annual Republic Day parade, which saw many firsts as the country’s grandest ceremonial event was curtailed because of the coronavirus pandemic. The Republic Day parade was shorter, involved fewer participants and only a fourth of the usual number of spectators were allowed at Rajpath as the government followed strict social distancing protocols.

Not more than 25,000 spectators were allowed at Rajpath this year, compared to over 100,000 people who usually turn up for the parade, and children below the age of 15 were not permitted at the parade. The size of the marching contingents from the armed forces and the paramilitary were also smaller. The shortened route of the parade ended at the National Stadium instead of the Red Fort.

Rafale fighter jets took part in the Republic Day flypast for the first time as the armed forces showcased its T-90 tanks, the Samvijay electronic warfare system and Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jets on the Rajpath on Tuesday. So was the presence of Flight lieutenant Bhawana Kanth, She was the first woman fighter pilot to take part in the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) tableau at the Republic Day parade. The IAF tableau displayed mock-ups of the light combat aircraft, light combat helicopter and the Sukhoi-30 fighter plane.

And, Captain Preeti Choudhary was the only woman army officer to lead a contingent this year. She led the upgraded Schilika weapon system, which also featured at the Republic Day Parade for the first time. “I received this opportunity because it is my regiment’s equipment, not due to my gender,” she has said on being the only woman contingent commander from the Indian Army.

Seventeen tableaux from states and Union territories and nine from different Union ministries and paramilitary forces took part in the 72nd Republic day parade. Six tableaux of the defence ministry also attended the event.

The ceremony started as Prime Minister Narendra Modi led the nation in paying tribute to the fallen soldiers by laying a wreath at the National War Memorial. Defence minister Rajnath Singh, Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, Indian Army chief Gen MM Naravane, Indian Navy chief Admiral Karambir Singh and Indian Air Force (IAF) chief Air Chief Marshal RKS Bhadauria were also present at the National War Memorial.

The parade, which was commanded by parade commander Lieutenant General Vijay Kumar Mishra, with Major General Alok Kacker as the second-in-command, began with President Ram Nath Kovind taking the salute. The national flag was unfurled followed by the national anthem with a booming 21-gun salute.

The Indian Army showcased its main battle tank T-90 Bhishma, infantry combat vehicle BMP-II-Sarath, mobile autonomous launcher of the BrahMos missile system, multi-launcher rocket system Pinaka, electronic warfare system Samvijay among others during the parade.

The Indian Navy’s tableau at the Republic Day parade this year displayed models of Indian naval ship (INS) Vikrant and naval operations that were conducted during the 1971 India-Pakistan war. The Indian Air Force exhibited models of light combat aircraft Tejas and indigenously developed anti-tank guided missile Dhruvastra on its tableaus during the parade. Scaled-down models of the Light Combat Helicopter, Sukhoi-30 MKI fighter jet and Rohini radar were also part of the IAF tableaux.

There were 38 IAF aircraft, including Rafale, and four planes of the Indian Army participated in the flypast. The Republic Day parade ended with a single Rafale aircraft flying at a speed of 900kmph carrying out a ‘Vertical Charlie’.

Seventeen tableaux from Gujarat, Assam, Tamil Nadu, Maharashtra, Uttarakhand, Chhattisgarh, Punjab, Tripura, West Bengal, Sikkim, Uttar Pradesh, Karnataka, Kerala, Andhra Pradesh, Arunachal Pradesh, Delhi and Ladakh were showcased during the parade, depicting their geographical and rich cultural diversity.

The tableaux highlighted the vision for Ladakh to be carbon neutral, the Sun temple at Modhera in Mehsana District of Gujarat, tea-tribes of Assam, shore temple and other monuments of Pallava Dynasty in Tamil Nadu, Bhakti Movement and saints of Maharashtra, among others.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation (DRDO) presented two tableaux at this year’s parade, one showcasing light combat aircraft Tejas’ successful take off from aircraft carrier INS Vikramaditya in 2020, and another displaying full complement of the anti-tank guided missile systems.