In an unprecedented development in 61 years, India’s Independence Day celebrations at the Attari-Wagah international border near Amritsar in Punjab on Saturday were held in the absence of spectators due to coronavirus pandemic, officials said.
Those who have witnessed the ceremony during normal times would vouch for the electrifying effect it has on the boisterous audience that sits virtually on the edge of stairs of the spectators’ gallery. In contrast, Saturday’s flag-hoisting, ceremonial drill and Beating Retreat on the country’s 74 Independence Day was a low-key affair.
Also missing was the traditional bonhomie between border forces of both India and Pakistan – the BSF and the Pakistan Rangers – who in normal times would share sweets and exchange greetings at the Joint Check Post, around 30 km from the holy city.
However, a band performance by BSF personnel was held on Friday and Saturday evening to mark the occasion.
In March 2020, the BSF had stopped the entry of visitors from across India who otherwise thronged the JCP to witness the famous Beating Retreat ceremony – a daily charged-up drill performed by the BSF and the Pakistan Rangers in the evening hours – in view of the spread of the deadly coronavirus.
However, flag-hoisting and lowering of flags daily by both the forces is being held as usual.
At sunset, border guards on both sides lower their national flags. The ceremony is a major tourist attraction on both sides of the borders.
“Due to the coronavirus pandemic, there was no exchange of sweets between the BSF and the Pakistan Rangers,” a BSF spokesperson said.
The Pakistan Rangers also did not distribute sweets on Pakistan’s Independence Day (August 14),” the spokesperson added.
BSF Director General Surjeet Singh Deswal, besides senior officials, was present during the Beating Retreat on Saturday.
Previously too, border guards on both sides have not exchanged sweets on special occasions like Diwali and Eid as well as Independence Day and Republic Day functions due to heightened tension between the two nations.
India had chosen to skip the tradition in 2019 over growing incidents of ceasefire violations across the LoC in Jammu and Kashmir.
After the surgical strikes by Indian forces across the borders in September 2016, the BSF did not offer sweets to the Pakistan Rangers.