New Delhi: India's military might, its cultural diversity and achievements in various areas were showcased at a grand parade here on Thursday as the nation celebrated its 68th Republic Day with the Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed Al Nahyan as the Chief Guest.
The country's main celebration took place at Rajpath here where India's Who's Who assembled to watch a 90-minute parade that also focussed on the government's Make in India initiative to boost manufacturing.
Despite rain-bearing clouds and a drizzle, thousands turned up on both sides of Rajpath to watch the grand march that wound its way over eight kilometres from Raisina Hill, with the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan in the backdrop, to the 17th century Red Fort.
The day began with President Pranab Mukherjee unfurling the Indian flag at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying tributes to the fallen soldiers at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate.
Modi welcomed the President and the Chief Guest, Sheikh Mohammed, the son of the UAE's founding president.
President Mukherjee, commander-in-chief of the armed forces, took salute as the parade began with a 149-member UAE military contingent marching down the boulevard. Led by Lt Col Abood Musabeh Abood Musabeh Alghfeli, it comprised of the UAE Presidential Guard, the Air Force, the Navy, the Army and 35 musicians.
It was followed by military and paramilitary contingents, including mounted troops from the 61st Cavalry and mechanised columns. Martial music belted out by military bands filled the air as soldiers drawn from some of the finest military units marched with clockwork precision.
Paramilitary personnel and Delhi Police also walked, step to step.
Making their debut on the occasion were India's Light Combat Aircraft (LCA) Tejas and Airborne Early Warning and Control System (AEW&C), both developed indigenously. Despite overcast conditions, three of the fighter jets flew at a height of 300 metres from the ground at a speed of 780 km per hour in 'VIC' formation, leaving the spectators in awe.
Developed by the Aeronautical Development Agency and produced by Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd, Tejas, as a fourth generation aircraft, can fly at 1,350 km per hour and is comparable to the world's best fighters, including French Mirage 2000, American F-16 and Swedish Gripen.
The elite counter-terrorism force, National Security Guard (NSG), also made its maiden appearance with a contingent of 60 commandos in black overalls and armed gear giving the ceremonial salute to President Mukherjee. The other commandos were on seven vehicles.
After the armed forces came state tableaux, displaying India's oneness amid a rich diversity.
Haryana's tableau, dedicated to the 'Beti Bachao, Beti Padhao' campaign, came first. The Jammu and Kashmir tableau was clad in white, depicting the popular winter sports destination of Gulmarg.
A Delhi tableau made its appearance at the parade after many years.
The parade ended with a spectacular fly past by the Air Force, with aircraft and helicopters setting the skies ablaze. Mi-17 V5 helicopters flew with the Indian flag and showered flower petals.
The President presented a posthumous Ashok Chakra, the highest peacetime gallantry award, to the wife of Havildar Hangpan Dada of Assam Regiment who killed four terrorists before dying in Kupwara in Jammu and Kashmir.
The military parade was commanded by Lt Gen Manoj Mukund Naravane, General Officer Commanding, Delhi Area.