April - May 2007
‘Vandey Mataram’: A celebration of mother India - Republic Day 2007
Having been invited as a guest of the Government of India to attend the Republic
Ceremonials Graham and I flew out on the 24th of January. What a pleasure it
was to find ourselves again in Delhi. This was a Delhi bustling with anticipation
for the following day’s great parade and celebration of the country’s
anniversary of Republic Day. The security was immense and as we were staying
at the India International Centre it was something we encountered from the
moment of arrival. Sadly these days with so many intent on evil destruction
both the civilian and military arms of government have to take immense precautions
which were evident around the wide lovely roads of New Delhi.
On Republic Day we left the IIC at just after 0800 hours so that we would
have plenty of time; as it was the streets and roads were oddly quiet because
of the security and the fact it is a national holiday. What I liked was seeing
the various young contingents being ‘bussed’ in or walking in columns
to the Rajpath area from which they would march or perform for the VIPs and
spectators. It was fortunately a lovely morning with early sunshine – at
that time of year Delhi can have quite a few foggy mornings but Friday the
26th saw a blue sky and sunshine and Delhi looking lovely in the winter colours
of annual flowers on the roundabouts and parks and Lodi Gardens plus a few
spring blossoms on the big trees.
Our car was subjected to a most intense search and then sealed. We walked to
the Ambassadorial Enclosure where we were to sit. It was beautifully laid out
with carpets and elegant seating and a profusion of elegant flower arrangements
and carefully staged bunting and the Republic of India’s National Flag.
Very sadly, because of the stringent security, we were instructed not to bring
anything at all with us but passports and the invitation which meant I could
not actually photograph the parade as it unfolded in front of us.
The Parade takes quite a long time and I had wondered typically what people
would do for ‘conveniences’? Well that had been factored into the
logistics naturally and one could see how it must take quite a long time every
year to assemble the whole structure and cater to masses of dignitaries plus
the ordinary loyal Indians who would come to rejoice on one of their National
We were met by the Chief of Protocol and invited to sit in the front row of
seats between Ambassadors from Ghana and other African countries. There was
a red carpet in front of us and the barrier was about 10 feet away. A little
to the side of us was a group of chairs that were totally different from ours
and very soon it appeared that this was for the Russian contingent. President
Vladimir Putin was the Guest of Honour and naturally he had brought along a
delegation of Russians. As well as looking at all that was going on around
me with smart generals and military personnel arriving I observed the Russians
closely. What a cheerless bunch they proved to be. Not a smile or a polite
greeting to anyone. Their body language signalled that they were totally unimpressed,
did not want to be there and how would anybody consider a bright sunny day
sitting on the side of Rajpath about to witness one of the world’s truly
great parades an enjoyable thing to do!
The Diplomatic Corps on the other hand greeted each other and us and were friendly
and warm and guess what, used their ‘diplomatic’ skills for which
they are chosen to represent their respective countries. Then an American high
ranking diplomat arrived along with his relatives. He looked slightly miffed
that the front row was taken and spied the chairs of the Russians and without
thinking decided his party would sit there. The Protocol Chief looked dismayed
and had a discreet discussion with a colleague – meanwhile we all observed
the dilemma with amusement. He went up to the American and said something like ‘Excellency
please would you move from these seats’ and gesticulated to the rows
in which we were seated. The American lounged back in his seat and said audibly ‘Why,
these seats are good I like it here…’ to which the Chief of Protocol
hissed ‘you are sitting amongst the Russians….’ Well! He
leapt out of his seat and walked off followed by his relatives. The Russians
continue to scowl and all of us laughed. The various ambassadors found it a
huge source of mirth.
Everything ran to time impeccably and soon at 0957 hours The President, accompanied
by the Chief Guest, The President of the Russian Federation arrived in State.
The Prime Minister received the President and the Chief Guest. The Prime Minister
presented to the President and the Chief Guest, Raksha Mantri, Raksha Utpadan
Rajya Mantri, Raksha Rajya Mantri, the three Service Chiefs and Defence Secretary.
Once they were all seated the National Flag was unfurled. The President’s
Body-Guard presented the National Salute. The Band played the National Anthem
and a 21-gun Salute was fired. The Parade commenced.
The Parade and spectators were showered by Rose petals by Indian Air Force
helicopters and the various regiments of the Indian Army paraded past. It should
be remembered that the Indian Air Force is celebrating 75 years since its inception.
There was a huge amount of military hardware also used in the parade and since
quite a lot of this had been ordered from Russia presumably the Russians were
pleased to see it. Certainly to my irritation one Russian looked at nothing
but took a continuous photo of the whole parade – how I wish I could
contact him for a copy! There were Mounted Columns of Cavalry, Mechanised Columns
of tanks and Bofors guns and Launchers and Light Helicopters; these were followed
by Marching Contingents of the PARA Regiment, the Brigade of Guards, The Rajputs
and then very emotionally for me my late Father Frank Rose’s Regiment
The Jats. I was born at Bareilly in the military hospital – a child of
Independence – and have returned three times within the last decade to
Bareilly the Jat Regimental HQ. Captain Sumit Dabral commanded this contingent
from the Jat Regiment which was raised in 1795; the Regiment has taken part
in action in post and pre Independence periods. The Battle of Dograi fought
by the regiment in 1965 has been accepted by analysts as the finest battle
fought by an Infantry Battalion. This regiment has been awarded five Battle
Honours, eight Maha Vir Chakra, eight Kirti Chakra, thirty-two Shaurya Chakras
and thirty-nine Vir Chakras and 170 Sena Medals.
The Border Security Force Camel Contingent was superb; under the command of
Deputy Commandant Kamal Singh Rathore these ships of the desert are dependable
companions in the inhospitable terrain of Rajasthan and the Rann of Kutch.
The camel-mounted troops have been instrumental in successfully tracking down
smugglers and extremists in the Rajasthan and Gujarat frontiers. They were
followed by the only band of its kind in the world – the Border Security
Force Camel Band. Raised in 1986 by the Rajasthan and Gujarat Frontier Force
it is now a permanent feature in all Desert and Marwar Festivals. This was
a most wonderful sight.
At this point I observed the Russians had started to become animated and point
and smile and enjoy the spectacle. To see a bunch of normally looking disdainful
camels being made to ‘march’ and then the band actually playing
on another contingent of marching camels was a rare sight and so colourful.
The Indo Tibetan Border Police marching contingent in alpine dress known as
the ‘Himveers’ attired in snow combat dress guard the highest and
most inhospitable borders in the world and it was a reminder of their lonely
duties to see them in Delhi on the Rajpath in white dress uniform with skis
on their backs. They play a vital role in India’s defences.
When the Cultural Pageant started it too was most interesting and I was so
pleased to see Uttarakhand’s display of Corbett National Park. The tableau
projected the vital importance of conservation of wildlife, the emblematic
animal of India is the Tiger, followed by the Elephant and of course the national
bird – the Peacock. Jim Corbett was a family friend and it was good to
see his vital role in the initial stages of conservation being recognised.
The Children’s National Bravery Award Contingent was also breathtaking;
all these little heroes and heroines were riding on caparisoned elephants.
That too was amusing in that the mahouts had to really make those elephants ‘march’!
On a sombre note Teja Sai received the Sanjay Chopra Ward posthumously as did
Durga Doondieswar. These two brave youngsters in 2005 were on an organised
picnic from their school when during play a ball fell into river Munneru in
Andhra Pradesh and some of the students tried to retrieve it and were in difficulties.
Seeing the plight of their school mates Durga Doondieswar and Teja Sai jumped
into the river and managed to save four children and in the process the strong
current washed them both away. They gave their lives for their playmates and
have been duly recognised.
At the head of the elephant contingent was Kum Vandana Yadav from Uttar Ptradesh
who had received the Geeta Chopra Award; while in the fields with her brother,
Vandana valiantly resisted three young men who tried to molest her. She was
stabbed in the process but thankfully lived and the assailants were caught
with the help of nearby people. She led the proud band of Brave Children and
received most enthusiastic applause.
Something dear to my heart was the Stree Shakti – Empowering Women tableau.
This is the programme of the Government of Delhi aimed at the empowerment of
women in the capital especially those belonging to the weaker sections of society.
The tableau portrayed the success stories of the women in various areas of
the capital where they have proved themselves worthy and active stakeholders
in the development of the city.
We found the parade immensely interesting and at times profoundly moving; it
is a credit to the Armed Forces and the Civil contingents and as a ‘Child
of India’ there was much for me to feel proud of and to wish India success
and happiness for all her peoples for the future.
More articles by Aline Dobbie
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