NEW DELHI // Thousands braved the weather to greet the chief guest, Sheikh Mohammed bin Zayed, at the Republic Day parade in the Indian capital on Thursday.
Despite wet and cold conditions, the 68th celebrations took place as scheduled in front of Sheikh Mohammed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces, Indian president Pranab Mukherjee, prime minister Narendra Modi, and leaders and dignitaries from both countries.
Sheikh Mohammed, the most prominent Arab leader in recent years to be invited as the chief guest at these celebrations, watched as a members of the UAE Armed Forces and musicians led the march.
It is only the second time since the inaugural procession in 1950 that a foreign army has participated in the parade.
“[The] UAE’s participation in Republic Day celebrations reflects the depth of our ties which are based on mutual respect and common interests,” Sheikh Mohammed said.
The Crown Prince and Mr Mukherjee left for the military parade in a motorcade accompanied by a team of horsemen.
National Security Guard snipers were deployed at all high-rises along the parade route and about 60,000 police and military personnel were out across the city.
When Sheikh Mohammed and Mr Mukherjee arrived at the main viewing stand, the Indian national anthem was played followed by a 21-gun salute.
Elaborate and colourful floats featuring giant figures, singers, dancers and wrestlers represented the cultures of 17 Indian regions and the works of six ministries and government departments.
One of the more intricate floats belonged to the northern state of Jammu and Kashmir, which highlighted winter sports at Gulmarg with a ski slope, people having a fake snowball fight, a miniature moving ski lift, people riding a snowmobile, and a man pretending to pull a sled.
The annual parade, which runs down Rajpath from the president’s residence to India Gate, is observed every year in commemoration of the coming into effect of the Indian constitution.
The parade showcases the country’s defence capabilities and its cultural and social heritage as well as commemorating those who died in India’s fight for independence.
The UAE Military contingent opened the parade, with 149 soldiers from Land, Navy, and Air Forces, along with members of the Presidential Guard, who were accompanied by a 35-strong band.
Demonstrating India’s military might – the third-largest in the world after China’s and the United States’s – the hosts put on displays of tanks, missile carriers, horseback units and included an aircraft fly-bys.
Soldiers performed daredevil stunts on motorcycles ahead of a marching band and a regiment on camelback, and – for the first time – a masked special ops unit from the National Security Guard.
Also in the parade were 23 floats, 600 students performing dances, 25 children selected for bravery awards, and dozens of military ground vehicles and aircraft.
The grand finale was a fly-past by the Indian air force. The elite Black Cat commandos and the made-in-India Tejas combat aircraft made their Republic Day debut at Thursday’s parade.
Sheikh Mohammed said he was honoured and delighted to have shared this special event with the Indian people.
President Sheikh Khalifa and Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid, Vice President and Ruler of Dubai, sent congratulatory cables to Mr Mukherjee on the occasion.
The Crown Prince’s final official engagement before flying back to the UAE last night was to attend Mr Mukherjee’s At Home reception at the presidential palace.
The Crown Prince’s three-day state visit included signing business agreements between the country and discussing mutual concerns.
The growing threat from radicalism and terrorism was a key aspect of the talks and Maqsoud Kruse, executive director of Abu Dhabi’s Hedayah, the International Centre of Excellence for Countering Violent Extremism, was part of the UAE delegation taking part in round-table discussions among the countries’ religious leaders.
It was his first trip to India and he was delighted to take in the parade as well as the discussions. “Historical moments are ones you should always want to be a part of,” said Mr Kruse.
“Such an exemplary relationship between two great nations only shows that is possible to coexist, to be diverse, to be open to different cultures and religions.”
Paras Shahdadpuri, a former Indian diplomat who has made Dubai his home for the past 30 years, was very proud and honoured that the Crown Prince was the chief guest at this year’s celebrations.
The businessman, who moved to Dubai after falling in love with the UAE during a transit stop, said the strengthening of ties between the countries would greatly benefit the expat community, which in turn would benefit the Emirates as it would encourage Indian expatriates to invest in the UAE.
He said he had met the Crown Prince “about 10 times, and he tells me this your home in the UAE, and that we are all together”. This is true, he said: “All my eggs are in one basket, the UAE’s.”
“This is the golden era of the relationship,” said Mr Shahdadpuri, chairman of the Nikai Group.
Mr Shahdadpuri established his business in 1988 and now chairs 12 companies with 5,000 employees selling more than 400 products in 60 countries.
* With additional reporting by Himendra Mohan Kumar