The drive for atmanirbharta or self-sufficiency in India’s military might, as well as the key role of women in the armed forces were both in the spotlight at India’s 74th Republic Day celebrations on January 26, 2023, held at the newly-renovated and renamed Kartavya Path in the capital.
After two years of celebrations without any chief guest due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El-Sisi was the chief guest at this year’s parade, the first with President Droupadi Murmu at the helm.
As the national flag was unfurled on a cold and windy morning, the 21-gun salute was presented for the first time by Indian made 105-mm field guns, replacing the seven vintage Quick Fire 25-pounder guns which have been used since Independence. The change was in line with the Central government’s push for the indigenous manufacture of defence equipment.
The Indian Army also showcased other Made-in-India equipment, including its main battle tank Arjun, the NAG missile system, the K-9 Vajra-T gun system, the AKASH air defence system, and the Brahmos missile.
A combined band and marching contingent from Egypt, with 144 soldiers of the Egyptian Army was also part of the parade this year, led by Colonel Mahmoud Mohamed Abdel Fattah El Kharasawy.
The parade was led by Parade Commander Lieutenant General Dhiraj Seth, General Officer Commanding, Delhi Area, followed by the Param Vir Chakra and Ashok Chakra awardees. Leading the Indian contingents was the 61st Cavalry, the only active serving horsed cavalry in the world
In a display of women’s empowerment, the marching contingents of the Indian Air Force and the Indian Navy were both led by women officers for the first time. While Lt. Commander Disha Amrith led the Navy’s 144 sailors, Squadron Leader Sindhu Reddy headed 144 air warriors and four officers of the IAF.
In another first, the Navy’s contingent also included three women and six men Agniveers, participants in the new Agnipath scheme for short-term recruitment to the armed forces which has faced violent protests from army aspirants in some States.. Around 2,800 naval Agniveers are currently undergoing training at the INS Chilka in Odisha, with 271 women among them. The four-month training programme will be completed by March 23, 2023, after which they will go on a warship as part of a familiarisation course before their postings.
The Central Reserve Police Force also presented an all-women marching contingent in the parade, led by Assistant Commandant Poonam Gupta, while the Delhi Police had an all-women pipe band comprising 35 women constables. The marching contingent was led by Assistant Commissioner of Police Shweta K. Sugathan.
The theme of nari shakti or female power carried beyond the armed forces contingents into the parade’s cultural tableaux as well. Tripura’s tableau focussed on the active role of its women in creating sustainable livelihoods through tourism and organic farming, while Kerala presented folk traditions of women’s empowerment. Other States which adopted a similar theme for their displays included West Bengal, Maharashtra, Tamil Nadu, and Karnataka.
Uttar Pradesh showcased the three-day Deepotsava. The lights, Saryu, Aarti depicted the illuminated temples in Ayodhya.
Another major attraction this year was a dance performance called ‘Vande Bharatam’ on the theme of Nari Shakti, consisting of 326 female and 153 male artists. Presented by the Ministry of Defence and the Ministry of Culture, the performance was a mix of classical, folk, and contemporary fusion dance with different artists performing different forms of dance to the same music.
One of the most popular parts of the parade every year, the fly past, was not clearly visible due to the cloudy weather, leaving the audience a bit disappointed at the end. Some of the formations, as narrated by the commentators, were Netra by four Rafale fighter jets and Trishul by three Sukhoi-30 Mki. Creating a diamond shape in the blurry skies were the helicopters of Indian Army Aviation Corps. The Rudra formation consisted of two Dhruv helicopters and two Rudra helicopters.