India marks Republic Day with parade and French guests

Indian military personnel riding alongside a missile launcher during a parade to mark Republic Day in Kolkata yesterday. In line with the ongoing "Make in India" initiative, the nation has been trying to raise domestic production of its defence equip
Indian military personnel riding alongside a missile launcher during a parade to mark Republic Day in Kolkata yesterday. In line with the ongoing "Make in India" initiative, the nation has been trying to raise domestic production of its defence equipment.PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Nation's military strength put on display as event features foreign troops for first time

India showcased its military might, including a display of its first indigenously developed air defence system, at its 67th Republic Day Parade - which also saw the first-ever participation of foreign troops.

French President Francois Hollande, who on Monday joined Indian leaders in sending a tough message on terror, was the chief guest at yesterday's parade. Indian Prime Minister Narenda Modi - sporting a gold turban - and Mr Hollande chatted as they sat side by side in a bulletproof glass enclosure.

In a sign of India's solidarity with France - after terror attacks in Paris last November killed 130 people - hundreds of Indian soldiers marched with 76 French soldiers led by a French military band consisting of 48 musicians down Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard in the capital city.

Thousands gathered at the annual parade amid tight security and thick smog. The pomp-filled event included a flypast of fighter jets and attack helicopters, apart from marching contingents, performances by daredevil stuntwomen and dancers, as well as floats from different states of the country.

The Indian Navy presented a tableaux displaying flight deck operations aboard the new aircraft carrier, Vikrant, which is currently being fitted with operational systems, as well as the indigenously constructed submarine, Kalvari.

Fighter jets and choppers acquired from the United States and Russia were also part of the flypast, along with the Akash weapon system, India's first indigenously developed air defence system capable of firing short-range surface-to-air missiles.

India is one of the world's largest importers of defence equipment, but it has been trying to increase domestic production with Mr Modi launching a "Make in India" initiative with special emphasis in the defence sector.

Vikrant, India's first indigenously built aircraft carrier, is seen as an important achievement for the South Asian country.

Experts said the main message from this year's Republic Day Parade was also on indigenous efforts to modernise the Indian Armed Forces.

"The government is trying to place a lot of accent on Make in India... It is a very important message we are trying to send across.

"Even new defence procurement rules which are being unveiled distinctly show how we will put stress on this all," said Dr P.K. Ghosh, a retired naval officer and senior fellow at the Delhi-based think-tank Observer Research Foundation.

As part of its modernisation drive, India has also been trying to diversify its weapons purchases beyond its traditional supplier Russia and has acquired from the US and Israel.

India is currently also in negotiations to buy 36 Rafale jets from France. The two countries signed an agreement on Monday on the jets but financial aspects are still to be finalised.

Still, some said that the effort to go indigenous remains a slow-moving process.

"It hasn't really picked up. It will take time and it's a very long process...," said Lieutenant-General (Ret) Naresh Chand.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2016, with the headline 'India marks Republic Day with parade and French guests'. Print Edition | Subscribe