India's Republic Day parade has an Asean flavour, commemorating ties with the region

Floats on display during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi on Jan 26. PHOTO: REUTERS

NEW DELHI - 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 on Friday (Jan 26) 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 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 in 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 its 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 and the two could could be seen talking often as the parade got underway.

In an acknowledgement of the presence of the leaders, 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 the individual 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 the 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 children, from a Delhi school, danced to Indian music.

A squad of 27 women bikers from the Border Security Forces who performed stunts on Royal Enfield Bullet motorcycles drew loud cheers. One of their feats had six bikers balancing on one two-wheeler.

Still it was the military display that was the big draw, with heavy artillery such as tanks, 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 in November last year.

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.

Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.