The 70th Republic Day parade will be a dazzling display of 'Nari Shakti', led by the Assam Rifles contingent, besides a lone woman officer exhibiting bike stunts on Rajpath as part of the iconic daredevil team. Addressing a press conference on Wednesday, Maj Gen Rajpal Punia, Chief of Staff, HQ Delhi Area, also said that four Indian National Army (INA) veterans, aged over 90 years, will also take part in the parade for the first time. The artillery gun system M777 American Ultra Light Howitzers, recently acquired from the US and K9 Vajra, a self-propelled artillery gun will be new additions this year, he said.
Vajra is a symbol of the prime minister's Make in India initiative, Punia added. "This Republic Day parade will also be an amazing display of 'Nari Shakti' (women power), as many contingents will be led by women, besides an all-women contingent of the Assam Rifles," he said.
Contingents of the Navy, India Army Service Corps and a unit of Corps of Signals (transportable satellite terminal) will all be led by women officers. Asked if this Republic Day will see the largest participation ever of women in the parade, Punia, said, "Seeing the level of their involvement in this year's parade, with all-women Assam Rifles contingent, and other contingent leaders, it is the largest participation of women in the parade."
The all-women Assam Rifles contingent will create a history this year by participating for the first time in a Republic Day parade. Maj Khushboo Kanwar, 30, and mother of a child, who will lead a contingent of the Assam Rifles, the oldest paramilitary force in the country, was brimming with pride.
"Leading an all-women contingent of the Assam Rifles is a matter of great honour and pride for me. We have practiced very hard...I am a daughter of a bus conductor from Rajasthan and if I can accomplish this, then any girl can fulfil her dream," she told PTI on the sidelines of the media interaction. A full-dress rehearsal of the Republic Day parade was held in New Delhi on Wednesday.
Punia, also the Deputy Parade Commander in this year's parade, said, INA veterans will take part in a Republic Day parade for the first time. "Also, in a first, four INA veterans, aged between 90-100 years will take part in the parade. INA soldiers had links with the British Indian Army, so they also have links with our legacy," he said, adding, that they tried to contact those veterans who were alive and there was no criteria for their selection.
Army sources said this is also the first time ever when the Gorkha Brigade is will participate as a contingent in the parade. "The present Army chief is the president of this brigade. There are seven different Gorkha regiments which make up the Gorkha Brigade. The officer leading the brigade is Capt Abhaysheraz Sandhu, a third-generation soldier in the armed forces," a source said.
A host of the country's air defence capabilities will be showcased during the Republic Day celebrations here, including a 'vic' formation of An-32 aircraft, whose lead plane will be flying using a mix of traditional and bio-fuel for the first time during the parade. Punia said besides 'Nari Shakti' and various thematic tableaux of the three services and different states and ministries, the theme of Mahatma Gandhi's 150th birth anniversary will also be reflected in the parade.
Capt Shikha Surabhi from the Corps of Signals will perform bike stunts alongside her male teammates as part of daredevils, a major attraction every Republic Day. "I am the first woman to be part of daredevils segment of the parade. It took a lot of practice to perfect the stunts. But I am proud of this accomplishment. Women can do anything," said the 28-year-old officer who hails from Jharkhand's Hazaribagh.
"I will perform a standing salute on a bike," she said.
Lt Ambika Sudhakaran, who will lead a marching naval contingent of 144 young sailors said, "Men and women are marching shoulder-to-shoulder to serve the nation." Lt Bhavana Kasturi will lead a contingent of the India Army Service Corps' and Capt Bhavna Syal, a third-generation officer in the armed forces, will front the transportable satellite terminal's contingent.
For the first time, Shankhnaad, a military tune composed by an Indian classical music exponent based on a poem penned by a Mahar Regiment veteran, will also be played during the parade. The combination of military bands of the Sikh Light Infantry, Mahar Regiment and the Ladakh Scouts will play the tune, officials said.