Lumbering tanks and the deafening roar of fighter planes echoed through New Delhi on Wednesday as India’s military showcased its might on Republic Day.
The annual January 26 event marks the adoption of India’s constitution with missile launchers, jet flyovers, motorcycle stunts and the brass band of the camel-mounted Border Security Force.
Military and police battalions marched down a boulevard past Prime Minister Narendra Modi but without the customary foreign dignitary guests of honour, as India battles a resurgence of Covid-19 infections.
Audience numbers along the usually crowded sidelines of the procession were capped at 4,000 people and eminent spectators sat spaced far apart, with authorities announcing overnight that India had surpassed 40 million coronavirus cases since the pandemic began.
Wednesday’s ceremony also featured mobile parade floats highlighting the country’s history and cultural diversity alongside traditional dancers.
India is preparing to commemorate 75 years since the end of British colonial rule and several of the displays dramatised events from the nation’s long independence struggle in the first half of the 20th century.
Modi’s government announced it would posthumously award former defence chief General Bipin Rawat with India’s second-highest civilian honour, the Padma Vibhushan.
Rawat was seen as close to the Hindu nationalist prime minister and supportive of his political agenda but died in a helicopter accident in November.
Modi also paid tribute to fallen soldiers before the parade began, just days after his government provoked a minor storm by extinguishing the nearby “eternal flame” that served to commemorate Indians who died on the battlefield.
The flame had been burning for 50 years but has now been merged with a new war memorial, inaugurated in 2019.
Modi’s government has embarked on an extensive remodelling of key sites in New Delhi and has been accused of seeking to stamp its own identity on the city.
A heavy security presence ringed Wednesday’s official programme after the government was embarrassed on last year’s Republic Day by chaotic protests in the capital.
Farmers protesting agricultural reform bills, since abandoned by the government, ran riot on tractors through the city’s streets and hoisted a flag at the historic Red Fort, while hundreds of police officers were injured.