There are interesting firsts at this year’s Republic Day parade.
Here are the six attractions.
In 2018, the presence of leaders of 10 member countries of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, apart from the debut of all-woman bikers contingent of the Border Security Force, had made the Republic Day special. A year earlier, in 2017, India's Light Combat Aircraft Tejas and Airborne Early Warning system developed indigenously made their maiden appearance at the parade, along with National Security Guard commandos and the Dhanush howitzer.
Of course, US President Donald Trump couldn’t make it this year, despite his love for parades, because he did not want to postpone his State of the Union Address, which he ultimately had to because of the government shutdown. But there will be new attractions at the celebrations this year too.
One, Sankhnaad, a martial tune, will be played for the first time during this year's Republic Day celebrations. The tune, composed by Tanuja Nafde, is a combination of three ragas - Raag Bilaskhani Todi, Raag Bhairavi and Raag Kirvani. Based on a poem written by Brigadier Vivek Sohal of the Indian Army, it is the first original martial tune of independent India based on classical music.
Two, K9 Vajra, a self-propelled 155 mm howitzer being inducted by the Army, will makes its debut at the parade. India has contracted for 100 K9s in a Rs 4,500 crore deal with Larsen & Toubro (L&T) and South Korea’s Hanwha Techwin. The deal is widely regarded as the quickest procurement of a major weapon system.
The first batch of 10 K9s, which underwent final assembly at L&T’s Strategic Systems Complex at Talegaon near Pune in Maharashtra, has reportedly been delivered to the Indian Army. The remaining 90 K9s are being assembled at L&T Armoured Systems Complex in Hazira near Surat.
The gun was officially inducted by the Indian Army in November last year at the Nashik-based Artillery Training Centre. Some parts of the howitzer, including the fire control system, hull, turret, electronics, auto loaders, air conditioning and direct fire systems have bee developed indigenously by L&T.
Three, another howitzer, the M777, will also roll down the Rajpath on Saturday. Of the 145 guns India contracted for under the US’ Foreign Military Sales programme, 25 are being imported directly from BAE Systems, which now owns Bofors. Of these 25, five have arrived in India, and the remaining 20 will be delivered by May 2019. The remaining 120 will be assembled in India in partnership with Mahindra Defence Systems at a facility on the outskirts of Delhi.
In total, the army will have seven regiments of M777s, each with 18 guns. Some of the 145 guns will be used for training purposes. The first regiment will be completed by October this year. Reports suggest the M777s will equip the new Mountain Strike Corps being raised by the army, and the fourth artillery division for deployment along the unresolved northeastern frontier with China. The light weight of the guns makes their deployment in mountainous areas possible.
Four, a woman officer will lead an all-men army contingent for the first time. Lieutenant Bhavana Kasturi of the Army Service Corps will lead a contingent of 144 male personnel at this year’s parade.
An all-women contingent of the Assam Rifles will also march down the Rajpath for the first time. This contingent of the Assam Rifles is also special because many women part of it are kin of martyred soldiers.
Five, four veterans of Subhash Chandra Bose’s Indian National Army (INA), also called the Azad Hind Fauj, will also march along the Indian Armed forces at the parade for the first time, 70 years after the country’s Independence.
The four soldiers are aged between 97 and 100 and belong to Manesar, Panchkula, Narnaul and Chandigarh. The INA, founded by Ras Bihari Bose in the year 1942, had fought a fierce battle with the British for India’s independence with aid from Imperial Japan during the Second World War. After Independence, the government of the day did not allow it to be part of the Indian Army.
Six, first time, biofuel extracted from Jatropha plant will be used as a fuel in Antonov An-32 transport aircraft taking part in the Republic Day parade.