Mandatory masks, a smaller crowd, fewer participants, shortened route, and contactless formations were some of the changes observed during the 72nd Republic Day held in the wake of Covid-19 on Tuesday.
While more than 100,000 people attended the parade during the previous years, with Covid-19 norms in place on Tuesday, the crowd was limited to 25,000.
As per the advisory, children below the age of 15 were also not permitted at the parade. The size of the marching contingents from the armed forces and the paramilitary were also smaller. The route of the parade was also shortened and ended at the National Stadium instead of the Red Fort.
For the first time in at least five decades, the Republic Day celebrations, seen as a high point in India’s diplomatic calendar, did not have a chief guest. The last time the parade did not have a chief guest was in 1966. UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson – the dignitary invited this year – had cancelled his planned visit to India to focus on countering a recent surge in Covid-19 infections in Britain.
From sanitiser dispensers at multiple entrances to security personnel donning PPE kits, the venue of the parade at Rajpath ensured Covid-19 protocols were followed. Special Covid-19 booths with beds and emergency medical equipment were also present at the spot. Security officials deployed at the spot ensured that people maintained distance while standing in queues or while speaking to one another.
Dr Sarath Kumar, 28, who works at All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), said he had come for the parade for the first time. “They are enforcing Covid-19 protocols like physical distancing strictly and even the seats are stationed at a 6 ft distance. There were multiple entry points to avoid overcrowding and the entire arrangement was good. The interesting part of the parade was the air force formations and the participants exercising precaution,” he said.
Another visitor Harshita Malik, 30, a PhD student from Rohtak, said it was important to maintain traditions. “Celebrating the Republic Day was important as it is a part of our tradition. The Covid-19 risk can be mitigated if we follow all protocols. The arrangements here ensured that we sat at a distance from one another so I think it was a good idea to not cancel the parade.”
In the absence of the motorcycle stunts, which received the maximum applause from the audience in previous years, the loudest cheers this year were reserved for the National Security Guard (NSG) commandos and the Rafale jets, which participated in the parade for the first time.
Ranjan Kumar, 37, whose brother was CRPF personnel who lost his life in the 2017 Sukma attack, said, “Seeing the Rafale jet was the best part of the parade. Experiencing it in person is different from seeing it in videos.”
Another popular attraction during this year’s parade was the “Atma-Nirbhar Bharat Abhiyan: Covid” tableau put up by the department of biotechnology, which depicted the process of vaccine development through five steps. From virus isolation to vaccine production and clinical trials, the tableau showcased various stages of vaccine development bringing in cheers and applause from the audience.
This is also the first time a tableau from the Union Territory of Ladakh was displayed at the parade.
The tableau from Uttar Pradesh (which showed Ayodhya and the Ram Mandir) and the one from Delhi (which showed the redevelopment of Chandni Chowk) also received massive cheers from the crowd.
Flight lieutenant Bhawana Kanth was the first woman fighter pilot to take part in the Indian Air Force’s (IAF’s) tableau at this year’s Republic Day parade and Captain Preeti Choudhary was the only woman army officer to lead a contingent. She led the upgraded Schilika weapon system, which also featured at the Republic Day Parade for the first time.
Meanwhile, Delhi recorded 157 fresh Covid-19 cases on Tuesday, the fifth time the daily incidences’ count stood below the 200-mark in January, even as the positivity rate dipped to 0.24 per cent.
The infection tally in the city stood at 6.34 lakh and the death toll mounted to 10,820 with seven new fatalities, the authorities said