BSF Camel contingent at the 66th Republic Day Parade. (Press Information Bureau)
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In the presence of U.S. President Barack Obama and First Lady Michelle Obama, India displayed its military might and rich cultural diversity during the dazzling 66th Republic Day parade in New Delhi, Jan. 26. The capital was wrapped in an unprecedented security blanket for the visiting guests. A Press Trust of India report.

President Barack Obama was the first ever U.S. President to attend the parade as Chief Guest on the second day of his three-day visit, as light rain and overcast skies failed to dampen the enthusiasm of thousands of spectators who gathered along the Rajpath to watch the majestic pomp-filled spectacle.

Dressed in a dark suit, President Obama was seated next to Indian Prime Minister Modi, donning a multicolored “bandhej safa” (Rajasthani turban), as the two leaders chatted and soaked up the splendor that unfolded on the rain-soaked parade route.

A smiling U.S. President was seen nodding in appreciation on several occasions and gave a thumbs up to the BSF daredevils — famed for their formation of a human pyramid on moving bikes — during their display of daring motorcycle stunts that was a showstopper.

Smartly attired all-female units from the Army, Navy and Air Force marched for the first time in this year’s parade, as the country’s military hardware with carnival-style floats featuring achievements in diverse fields as well as tribal dancers and traditional music rolled past in a show of ‘unity in diversity.’

In a departure from tradition for the Chief Guest at the Republic Day parade, President Obama arrived in his own highly-secured vehicle, “The Beast,” at Rajpath. The crowd erupted in cheers as the Obamas emerged from the limousine.

President Obama and his wife, Michelle, sat in a special glass enclosure along with President Pranab Mukherjee, Prime Minister Narendra Modi, Vice President M. Hamid Ansari and his wife, and Defense Minister Manohar Parrikar among other dignitaries. Michelle also smiled broadly at dance performance by young children.

A highlight of this year’s parade was the display for the first time of the recently acquired long-range maritime surveillance and anti-submarine P-8I aircraft and the long-range advanced MiG-29K fighter plane.

Prime Minister Modi’s “Make in India” campaign to boost the country’s manufacturing industry and create much-needed jobs was featured in one of the tableaux.

The dignitaries watched in awe as a spectacular fly-past by the Indian Air Force that left a smoke-trail of the orange, white and green national flag signaled an end to the parade.

The amount of time — around two hours — spent by President Obama on an outdoor viewing platform was unusual given the U.S. Secret Service security concerns.

A massive ground-to-air security apparatus was put in place in the national capital turning the city into virtually an impregnable fortress. Snipers of National Security Guard were deployed at all high-rises along the parade route.

The arrangements were made to ensure an incident-free Republic Day celebrations and foolproof security to the American President, who arrived in New Delhi, Jan. 25.

As part of the seven-layered security, around 45,000 security personnel were deployed across the city while the commandos of the Indo-Tibetan Border Police and Delhi Police kept a hawk-eye vigil at important locations.

Before the commencement of the parade, Naik Neeraj Kumar Singh and Major Mukund Varadarajan were posthumously conferred the highest peacetime gallantry award, the Ashok Chakra, by the President.

Major Varadarajan and Naik Neeraj Kumar laid down their lives while battling groups of militants in separate operations in Shopian and Kupwara districts of Kashmir respectively.

Among the main attractions of the ceremonial parade were 25 colorful tableaux representing India’s cultural and linguistic diversity as also signifying the vision of the future India as envisaged by the current government.

A massive mechanized lion made out of gear-tooth wheels, symbolic of the government’s ‘Make in India’ policy and a mock-up of a high-speed bullet train drew cheers from the crowd as they rolled down the majestic avenue.

Besides, the tableaux for ‘Prime Minister Jan Dhan Yojana’ helmed by the Department of Financial Services, the Ministry of Women and Child Development-led exhibit featuring live performances by women themed on ‘Beti Bachaho, Beti Padhao’ campaign also won many hearts.

And, with “Women’s Empowerment” being the theme of this year’s Republic Day parade, another attraction at the annual extravaganza was the contingents of all-women officers of the three Services marching for the first time on the Rajpath.

Colorful performances by schoolchildren delighted President Obama as much as the crowd in general.

Another military attraction was the display of Army version of indigenously developed surface-to-air Akash medium range missile and Weapon Locating Radar, both by Defense Research and Development Organization (DRDO).

An Indian Air Force tableau with the theme “50 years of 1965 War” was next in line at the majestic Rajpath, dazzling VIPs, VVIPs and spectators alike.

The camel-mounted band of BSF and the ex-servicemen marching contingent too added to the attraction.

New-born state Telangana, making its Republic Day debut showcased its illustrious festival ‘Bonalu’, celebrated to worship Mahakali goddess in the month of Ashada.

The most breathtaking events were by the Air Force jets and daredevil motorcycle performance ‘Jaanbaaz’ by BSF personnel.

The rider perform ‘Border Men Salute’, ‘Side Riding’, ‘Ladder Balancing’, ‘Communal Harmony’, ‘Peacock Riding’, ‘Acrobat’, ‘Parallel Bar’, ‘Lotus’, ‘Seema Prahari’ and ‘Flag March’ formations among others.

The grand finale of the parade was a spectacular fly-past by the IAF jets and aircraft.