India’s mounting military might, cultural diversity and remarkable enterprise were on display at the Republic Day Parade on the majestic Rajpath here on Tuesday, even as dense fog played spoilsport for a better part of the proceedings.

President Pratibha Patil arrived at the venue escorted by members of the elite President’s Bodyguards, along with South Korean President Lee Myung-bak, who was the chief guest at the parade.

A 21-gun salute was followed by the hoisting of the tricolour and rendition of the national anthem.

Earlier in the day, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh led the nation in paying homage to martyrs by laying a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate.

Owing to poor visibility, the showering of petals by four Mi-17 helicopters was cancelled.

Before the parade, the Ashok Chakra was awarded to Major D. Sreeram Kumar of 39 Assam Rifles, Major Mohit Sharma of the Parachute Regiment’s (Special Forces) First Battalion (posthumous), and havildar Rajesh Kumar of the Rajputana Rifles’ 11th Battalion (posthumous).

The highly anticipated part of the celebrations began with the 61 Cavalry’s smartly turned out horsemen in red. Impeccably attired contingent after contingent marched in tandem to the lively tunes of various bands.

The Army’s mechanised columns consisted of the Arjun tank — said to have accurate fast target acquisition capability in all types of weather, besides being highly manoeuvrable — and the Smerch multiple rocket launch system. The armoured engineer reconnaissance vehicle Sarvatra bridge, infantry combat-based communication vehicle Samyukta, and an ambulance-tracked vehicle, designed for speedy evacuation of battle casualties and immediate medical care were also part of the mechanised column.

Contingents and bands from the Indian Navy and Air Force clad in various hues of blue showcased their tableau. Contingents from the paramilitary and auxiliary civil forces were also present.

The camel contingent of the Border Security Force was an attractive sight, with members in vibrantly coloured uniforms. The band members were also on camel-back.

The Defence Research and Development Organisation showcased various military equipment including Tejas, the light combat vehicle, Agni-III and Shourya missiles, and the Rohini radar.

The cultural tableaux were also a big hit, with each one being greeted with applause and whistles. A loud cheer went up when the National Bravery Award-winning children arrived in jeeps. School children showcased their talent in the form of various dance items.

The motorcycle daredevilry by BSF personnel left the audience enthralled as the riders balanced themselves in precarious positions on running motorcycles.

All eyes were then trained skywards as an IL-78, two AN-32 and two Dornier aircraft in the ‘Big Boy” formation took the lead in the flypast. They were followed by three aircraft, including an AWACS (airborne warning and control system) and two SU-30 MKI aircraft in the “Sentry” formation.

Spectators were awe-struck by the speed of the five deep penetration strike aircraft Jaguars in the “Arrowhead” formation, followed by a second formation of five MiG 29 aircraft. The tail end of the flypast comprised a “Trishul” formation comprising three SU-30 MKI aircraft.

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