India flexes home-grown military muscle to mark Republic Day

Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee arriving for the Republic Day celebration yesterday. Mr Lee and the other nine Asean leaders were the chief guests at the parade, an honour reserved for countries that India is keen to cultivate and consider
Indian Border Security Force soldiers riding their camels at the country’s 69th Republic Day parade yesterday in New Delhi. Thousands braved the crowds and cold to watch the parade.ST PHOTO: TIMOTHY DAVID
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee arriving for the Republic Day celebration yesterday. Mr Lee and the other nine Asean leaders were the chief guests at the parade, an honour reserved for countries that India is keen to cultivate and consider
Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and Mrs Lee arriving for the Republic Day celebration yesterday. Mr Lee and the other nine Asean leaders were the chief guests at the parade, an honour reserved for countries that India is keen to cultivate and considers important.PHOTO: EPA-EFE

India put its home-grown weaponry on display at its 69th Republic Day Parade, celebrating India becoming a republic and, this year, India-Asean links as well.

Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong and nine other Asean leaders watched yesterday as the South Asian country showcased its military might and cultural diversity with marching contingents, a fly-past of helicopters and jets, floats and cultural performances by schoolchildren.

The Asean leaders were the chief guests at the parade at the invitation of Prime Minister Narendra Modi, an honour reserved for countries that India is keen to cultivate and considers important.

India and Asean marked 25 years of ties with a commemorative summit on Thursday.

Mr Modi, wearing a colourful traditional turban, greeted leaders as they arrived at the venue on Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard connecting the historic India Gate to Rashtrapati Bhavan, the President's palatial residence.

Thousands of people braved the long queues and the biting cold and dense fog to attend the event, which the announcer described as unprecedented in terms of the number of chief guests.

People waved to Mr Modi and the Asean leaders as they made their way up to a podium behind a bulletproof enclosure decorated with green saffron and white flowers, the colours of the Indian flag. Mr Lee, who was accompanied by Mrs Lee, sat next to Mr Modi.

The parade opened with a marching contingent consisting of soldiers from the Rajputana Rifles, a senior rifle regiment of the Indian Army, carrying the Asean flag and those of Asean countries.

India also highlighted the longstanding and historical links between India and Asean through two floats put up by the Ministry of External Affairs. One showcased education links, and bore a replica of the ancient Nalanda University, known for learning and Buddhist studies. The second float exhibited the religious links and included a replica of the Mahabodhi Temple, a Buddhist temple where Buddha is said to have attained enlightenment.

Women and men wearing the traditional attire of the 10 Asean countries also walked alongside the two floats, while similarly attired schoolchildren from a Delhi school danced to Indian music.

A squad of 27 women bikers from the Border Security Force who performed stunts on Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycles drew loud cheers.

Still, it was the military display that was the big draw, with heavy artillery from tanks to missile launchers, missiles and radar systems thundering down the ceremonial boulevard.

India, which is the world's largest importer of weapons, showed its growing arsenal of domestically developed weaponry, including the Tejas fighter jet, a long-range subsonic cruise missile called Nirbhay and the first home-grown air defence system called Akash.

Singapore had first-hand experience of the Tejas when Defence Minister Ng Eng Hen flew in it during a visit to India last November.

The parade ended with a fly-past, which included a jet fitted with a domestically developed airborne early warning and control system called Netra, helicopters and other aircraft, including the Tejas, flying in different formations.

Mr Modi later thanked the Asean leaders for attending the parade. "I thank the @Asean leaders for joining the #RepublicDay celebrations," he tweeted.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on January 27, 2018, with the headline 'India flexes home-grown military muscle to mark Republic Day'. Print Edition | Subscribe