India showcases its military prowess at Republic Day parade with pomp and ceremony

·3 min read

India rolled out its largest ever flypast as troops marched along a World War I monument where an “eternal” beacon lit 50 years ago was earlier doused and merged with a flame in a new war memorial.

Wednesday’s celebrations mark the adoption of the Indian constitution on 26 January, 1950, and this year it also feted the 75th year of freedom from British rule.

The parade snaking past the emblematic India Gate in Delhi was scaled down due to the pandemic, which has infected 39.8 million people and claimed 490,000 lives in India.

Dancers followed the soldiers as 75 aircraft including Russian MiGs, Sukhoi-30s and British-built bombers joined French Rafale jets over India Gate as 29,000 armed officers kept a vigil.

The new French jets, hailed as crème de la crème of India’s arsenal, are part of 36 Rafales India has bought for 7 billion euros.

The world’s second largest arms buyer after Saudi Arabia, India has changed gears to a spirited campaign of self reliance.

Tanks, missile-topped trucks and floats rolled past India Gate, built to honour 90,000 soldiers of the British Indian Army killed during the Great War in France and elsewhere.

India’s Arc de Triomphe

The 1931-built monument, hugely popular among visitors, is compared with Arc de Triomphe in Paris and Rome’s Arch of Constantine.

The government faced a backlash after it extinguished the perpetual flame burning beneath the India Gate arch five days before the parade and was “merged” with a beacon at the new memorial.

“Amar Jawan Jyoti” or “light of the immortal soldier” was set up on a platform a year after India defeated Pakistan in a 1971 war.

Government critics alleged it was put out to belittle war efforts of a previous government.

“What is being extinguished is not only an immortal flame but what is being extinguished is also a very important part of our history,” said Manish Tiwari of the erstwhile regime.

“What is happening is a national tragedy ... It is travesty,” he added.

Military brass divided

“It is an unnecessary controversy created by some politicians. Soldiers belong to no political party, they belong to the nation,” former army chief general Ved Prakash Malik told NDTV.

Names of Indian soldiers killed in all post-independence conflicts are inscribed in the new memorial some 400 metres from India Gate.

Air vice marshal Manmohan Bahadur demurred.

“Symbols have an intangible value in nation-building and citizens associate them with important events in the life of a nation,” Bahadur said.

“Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate was one such icon,” he asserted.

India Gate has no mention of WWII, when a larger number of Indians fought alongside the allied forces.

Retired naval chief Arun Prakash argued the step “sets right an incongruity.”

It “not only represents an irony for India’s military veterans, but also a deep schism in India’s socio-political landscape,” the admiral said in published comments.

Delhi will also unveil a statue of a nationalist hero who aligned with Nazi Germany and Japan to try and oust the British from India.

The larger-than-life figure of Subhas Chandra Bose will claim a canopy near India Gate, which was occupied by a statue of King George V until 1968.

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