Many R-Day firsts in 2021

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Covid-19, protest by farmers over the contentious farm legislation has forced the government tone down the celebrations, reports Manoj Menon

As the cliché goes every year, India’s Republic Day is one of many firsts. But never has the government face such challenges to celebrate the Republic.

The pandemic, protest by farmers over the contentious farm legislation and UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s withdrawal as the chief guest, has forced the government tone down the celebrations.

The Republic Day is always considered as the high point of India’s diplomatic calendar. However, 2021 isn’t the first time the marquee event hasn’t had a chief quest. Actually it’s the fourth. After the inauguration of the Indian constitution on January 26, 1950, the country hasn’t had a chief quest in 1952, 1953 and 1966 when Indira Gandhi was sworn in as prime minister on January 24 after the demise of Prime Minister Lal Bahadur Shastri on January 11.

However, this time, in a first again, the government hasn’t gone to look for a new chief guest after Johnson withdrew. In 2012, after Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said Al Said, turned down the invite to be the chief guest at the 2013 Republic Day Parade, the external affairs ministry worked with the Bhutan government to invite King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck to be the chief guest.

In the second instance, when US President Donald Trump turned down the invite to be the chief guest in 2019, the government reached out to the South African government. South African President Cyril Ramaphosa attended the Republic Day celebrations as the chief guest. He was only the second South African to be the chief guest at the Republic Day event after former President Nelson Mandela, who came to India in 1995.

However, 2021 isn’t like any other year. The changing geopolitical landscape post-Covid and New Delhi’s raising border tension with Beijing has made it wake to the reality of closer partnership with the European Union and Great Britain.

“We did not want to put any foreign dignitary in an awkward situation,” a senior official told the Hindustan Times on condition of anonymity about the idea of looking for a new guest for the event.

Though news reports suggest that President of Republic of Suriname, Chandrikapersad Santokhi will be the chief guest at the parade on January 26, there has been no confirmation yet from the Indian government.

This year, the parade will be also be shorter and end at National Stadium in the national capital rather than the Red Fort. The marching contingents will also be smaller, with 96 participants in each squad that was earlier made up of 144.

Also, the number of spectators along Rajpath have been capped at one-fourth of the 100,000 in previous years. Children below the age of 15 will not be permitted at the parade.

But in another first, the Republic Day will see a marching contingent of the Bangladesh army participate in the parade. The move is part of the 50th-anniversary celebrations of the 1971 liberation war of Bangladesh.

This is only the second time that foreign soldiers will be marching down Rajpath as part of India’s biggest ceremonial event — the first was the French in 2016. Fifty years ago, the Pakistan Army surrendered to the Indian Army paving the way for the formation of Bangladesh.

The number of participating children and folk artists have also been cut down to 400 this year, compared to more than 600 last year, in view of the Covid-19 restrictions.

This year will see for the first time the newly acquired modern multi role Rafale fighters of the Indian Air force flying over Rajpath as part of the flypast.

Confirming the information, a source said that the numbers of band contingents and the numbers of tableau will be the maximum this year. “Rafale fighters will be the part of Republic Day air display this year, but the motorcycle team Daredevil will not be participating.”

There will be a total of 32 tableaux this year with 17 from states and Union territories and the rest will be from the Central Ministries and Departments, Armed forces (Army, Nay and Air force).

There will two tableaux for the Defence research and Development Organisation (DRDO).

Also, two special tableaux, one from the Ministry of Culture depicting the 75 years of independence and the other from the Ministry of Information and Broadcasting about the New India.

In the 2020 RD Parade there were a total of 22 tableaux.

There will be 23 band contingents this year.

Due to Covid-19 restrictions, both children for Bravery Award and Gallantry Award winners above 60 years will not be participating.

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