By Nilofar Suhrawardy, MMNS
NEW DELHI â€“ History was created last week with President Pratibha Devisingh Patil becoming the first woman head of state to unfurl the national flag and take the customary 21-gun salute at Rajpath, marking 59th Republic Day of the country. Patil (73) was elected as President in July last year. The president also being the supreme commander of armed forces took salute as contingents of the ceremonial parade marched down the Rajpath at India Gate. The country had declared itself a Republic on 26th January 1950, with the Constitution coming into force.
The preceding evening, in her maiden Republic Day address, Patil laid stress that all people should benefit from national progress. â€œOur efforts and our commitment, while pursuing the goal of high growth rates, should be to ensure that all people of our country benefit from it. Our pledge will remain unfulfilled until, as Gandhiji had said–we have wiped every tear in every eye,â€ she said.
Describing terrorism as a grave threat to the civilized world, she laid stress on the need to take collective action. Referring to corruption, Patil said: â€œWe must strengthen measures for the removal of corruption by bringing about greater transparency.â€
Drawing attention to problems faced by women, who constitute half the population, Patil said: â€œWe also need to address social evils like child marriage, female feticide, female infanticide and dowry.â€
Patil also touched on problems like alcoholism and drug addiction. Besides, she laid stress on countryâ€™s goal being achievement of universal primary education by 2010. Patil expressed concern about problems faced by farmers and need of a second green revolution. During her address, Patil also paid attention to countryâ€™s foreign policy saying that India was committed to establishing ties of friendship and cooperation with all countries. â€œIndia will continue to work with the international community to create a better world a world free of terror, poverty, disease, ignorance and inequality,â€ she said.
Before the start of the parade (January 26), Patil awarded the countryâ€™s highest peacetime gallantry award Ashok Chakra posthumously to four Army personnel who sacrificed their lives fighting extremists in Jammu and Kashmir. The families of Capt Harshan R, Naib Subedar Chunni Lal, Col Vasanth Venugopal and Major Raghu Raman received the medals.
Amid tight security, images of countryâ€™s military prowess and rich cultural heritage were showcased as the contingents marched down the Rajpath at India Gate, with the countryâ€™s first woman head Patil taking their salute.
Among the dignitaries watching the march-past were the French President Nicholas Sarkozy- who was the chief guest, Vice President Hamid Ansari, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, the diplomatic community and the countryâ€™s top political and military officials.
The army contingent included personnel from Punjab Regiment, Grenadiers Regiment, Sikh Light Infantry, Assam Regiment, Mahar Regiment, 8-Gorkha Rifles and the Territorial Army. The armory showcased before the nation included indigenously developed frontline T-90 battle tanks, the Indian version of BrahMos and surface-to-surface Agni missiles. The Israeli-upgraded 155 MM artillery guns made their first appearance at the parade, with Dhanush Missiles and the long-range Smerch Rocket system.
The defense equipments included in the 105-minute event were the BLT T-72 (the Bridge Laying Tanks), 155 SOLTOM Guns, Tanguska Air Defense Gun System, Sarvatra Bridge, Mobile Network Connect Center, Infantry Combat Vehicle — BMP II K and the Carrier Mortar tracked Vehicle.
Experimental tanks and anti-submarine warfare tableaux were among columns of the Defense Research and Development Organization.
With its theme, â€œIndian Navy: Professional Team, Proud Force,â€ the naval tableau included all arms of the navy, surface, sub-surface and air. On display were also submarines, along with a model of INS Brahmaputra and INS Delhi.
The tableau of Indian Air Force (IAF) displayed the historic milestones of the countryâ€™s air prowess, beginning from 1932, marked by 1,732 kg single-engine fighter plane. This was followed by multi-role combat Sukhoi fighter jets procured by the force in early 2000. Also on display were the world-class frontline warships of Talwar Class Frigate. Besides, the IAF contingent included a model of fighter Sukhoi, a globe and a satellite depicting the aerospace command and having air superiority by the induction of the multi-role aircraft.
The parade also included a contingent of ex-servicemen, Border Security Forceâ€™s colorful camel contingent and tableaux from different states. The ones from Punjab, Haryana, Uttar Pradesh, Jharkhand, Orissa, Railways and Central Public Works Department focused on various aspects of countryâ€™s independence movement. While Andhra Pradesh showcased celebration of harvest festival, Bihar displayed its fifth century Nalanda University, Gujarat depicted the 11th century â€œRani ki Vavâ€- its oldest and grandest stepwell. With this year being birth centenary of revolutionary Bhagat Singh, his bust was carried by Punjabâ€™s tableau, while 20th century tribal revolution was the theme of Jharkhand.
Before the grand parade began, the Prime Minister, Defense Minister A. K. Antony and chiefs of Army, Navy and Air Force laid wreaths at â€œAmar Jawan Jyoti,â€ the war memorial at India Gate where an eternal flame burns in memory of those who laid their lives defending the frontiers of the nation.
With there being intelligence warning about possible strikes by terrorists, a massive ground-to-air security apparatus was in place in the capital city. While around 20,000 security personnel were deployed across the city, commandos of Indo-Tibetan Border police and Delhi police were deployed at all high-rises throughout the parade route.