New Delhi, Jan 26 (IANS) India on Friday celebrated its 69th Republic Day with 10 leaders of Asean countries taking a close look at the country's military might and cultural diversity and getting a peep into achievements at the annual grand parade here.
It was for the first time that 10 guests of honour -- from all 10 Asean countries -- were invited for the annual official celebrations, signifying India's growing strategic interests in its eastern neighbourhood that surrounds the maritime underbelly of Asia - the Indo-Pacific.
Despite a thick fog blanketing the city, hundreds turned up on both sides of Rajpath in the heart of Delhi to watch a grand march past 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 Ram Nath Kovind unfurling the Indian flag at the Rashtrapati Bhavan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying tributes to the fallen soldiers at the Amar Jawan Jyoti near India Gate.
Sporting a multi-coloured turban, Modi personally invited the 10 Asean guests to the stage where a Who's Who of the government, including Kovind and Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, were also seated.
President Kovind, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, took his first Republic Day salute as the parade was led by Army personnel carrying the Asean flag and flags of all 10 Asean nations.
It was followed by military and paramilitary contingents, including mounted troops from the 61st Cavalry and mechanised columns. Martial music 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.
The Army's T-90 tank (Bhishma), Ballway Machine Pikate (II/IIK), Brahmos Missile System, weapon locating radar (Swathi), bridge laying tank T-72, mobile base transceiver station and Akash weapon system were among the main draws in the mechanised columns.
Women BSF officers riding on 26 350CC Royal Enfield motorcycles to perform acrobatics and daredevil stunts was a head turner. There was a loud cheer as the "Seema Bhawani" contingent performed fish riding, four harmony, sapt Rishi, brahma yog guldasta, seema prahari and flag march pyramid.
It was a first all-women contingent -- led by Sub Inspector Stanzin Noryang, an officer from Jammu and Kashmir's Ladakh region -- from any force to perform biking stunts at the annual event.
Making its debut on the occasion was the country's first indigenously-built Weapon System Integrated helicopter Rudra, designed and developed by the Hindustan Aeronautics Ltd (HAL).
After the armed forces came state tableaux, displaying India's oneness amid a rich diversity.
The tableau of All India Radio featured Modi's monthly address 'Mann Ki Baat'. An Income Tax Department tableau "Swachh Dhan" displayed its fight to battle black money.
The 90-minute ceremonial parade ended with a spectacular fly past by the Air Force despite foggy conditions. Light combat aircraft Tejas, Jaguars and MiG-29 manoeuvred in various formations over the Rajpath skies.
The Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft split upwards, making a 'Trishul' in the sky, and another fighter plane performed 'vertical charlie' manoeuvre over the saluting dais, leaving the spectators in awe.
Fifteen of the 18 children who won the National Bravery Award also participated in the parade. Two girls and a boy were given the award posthumously.
School children from Delhi, Nagpur and Dimapur performed dances on different themes.
The military parade was commanded by Lt. Gen. Asit Mistry, General Officer Commanding, Headquarters Delhi Area.
Amid fears of possible terror attacks, a tight security blanket was thrown around the national capital including the venue. Nearly 60,000 police and paramilitary personnel were deployed across Delhi.