Celebrations for the 70th Republic Day began on Saturday when the ceremonial parade rolled down the majestic Rajpath here with South African President Cyril Ramaphosa in attendance as the chief guest, amid unprecedented security deployment in the city.
Prime Minister Narendra Modi paid his tributes to the martyrs by laying a wreath at Amar Jawan Jyoti in the presence of Defence Minister Nirmala Sitharaman and the three service chiefs.
Later Modi, wearing his traditional kurta pajama and the trademark Nehru jacket, reached the Rajpath and received President Ram Nath Kovind and the chief guest President Ramaphosa.
At the unfurling of the tricolour, the band played the national anthem with a 21-gun salute fired in the background.
Many senior leaders, including Home Minister Rajnath Singh and External Affairs Minister Sushma Swaraj, and former prime ministers Manmohan Singh and Deve Gowda, Congress leaders Rahul Gandhi and Ghulam Nabi Azad and Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal were among those present on the occasion.
The overall theme for the Republic Day celebrations this year is the 150th birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and tableaux of many states, themed on him, are lined up for the occasion.
Officials said Ramaphosa is the second South African president, after Nelson Mandela, to attend the grand event as its chief guest.
Four Indian National Army (INA) veterans, aged over 90 years, took part in the parade, among the many firsts for a Republic Day parade.
India’s military might was also on display, with the artillery gun system M777 American Ultra Light Howitzers, recently acquired from the US, and K9 Vajra, a self-propelled artillery gun, showcased on Rajpath, being new additions this year.
‘Nari Shakti’ (women power) was on full display on the ceremonial boulevard with an all-woman Assam Rifles contingent creating history this year by participating for the first time in the parade, which was led by Maj Khushboo Kanwar.
Contingents of the Navy, Army Service Corps and a unit of Corps of Signals (transportable satellite terminal) were led by women officers too, as the crowd cheered.
The tableaux of Sikkim, Delhi, Uttar Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab, West Bengal, Tripura, Goa, Andaman and Nicobar Islands and Uttarakhand were also displayed on the occasion.
The parade commenced in a cold weather amid a heavy security blanket with thousands of security personnel, anti-aircraft guns and sharpshooters deployed in view of the event.
The march began with showering of flower petals by helicopters led by the parade commander, parade second-in-command and Param Vir Chakra and Ashoka Chakra awardees.
The Indian Army’s T-90 tank, Ballway Machine Pikate (BMP-II/IIK), Surface Mine Clearing System, 155 mm/52 Calibre Tracked Self-propelled Gun (K-9 Vajra), Transportable Satellite Terminal, Troop Level Radar and Akash Weapon System were also showcased at the parade.
Chilly weather conditions failed to dampen the spirits of people who came to watch the parade.