New Delhi: India celebrated the 150th anniversary of its First War of Independence against British rule on 11 May.
The festivities centred around the Red Fort, the place where mutinous Indian soldiers proclaimed the ageing and frail Mughal Emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar as ruler of India in May 1857.
Colourful floats, cut-outs and a huge demon-shaped ballon with the Union Jack printed on it showed scenes from the conflict that glorified the mutineers’ courage in the face of the might of the country’s British masters.
“There is no doubt that 1857 was a shining example of our national unity,” said Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, speaking from the high rampart of the fort, built by Mughal Emperor Shahjahan in 1648.
“Our war of independence was based on unity in diversity and today our national unity is also based on this. “This is our strength and this is our destiny,” said Singh, referring to India’s secular constitution and its many faiths, castes and languages.
Patriotic songs were played in the background as a huge and mobile cutout of Zafar showed the reclining emperor smoking a hookah. Thousands of young volunteers shouted “Jai Hind” (long live India) during the celebrations.
Hundreds of policemen, including anti-terrorist commandos, stood guard as thousands of people including President APJ Abdul Kalam and Sonia Gandhi, watched the two-hour show. The government had declared a public holiday in the capital to mark the occasion.
Thousands of young people marched to Red Fort from the city of Meerut, a three-hour drive from the capital. Meerut is where the revolt started after soldiers killed their British officers and their families.