There will be no chief guest at the event for the first time in decades after British prime minister Boris Johnson called off his India trip.
The motorcycle stunts by troops of the army and the Central Armed Police Force personnel will be missing too.
India will mark its 72nd Republic Day next week, however, it will be the first to be organized amid the covid-19 pandemic which means celebrations will take place with many changes, including a shorter route for the parade and much less public participation in the event.
For starters, there will be no chief guest at the event for the first time in decades after British prime minister Boris Johnson called off his India trip due to the mounting covid-19 cases at home caused by a virulent variant of the SARS-CoV2 strain that triggers covid-19. Given the pandemic, India then decided not to have a chief guest at all this time around. Other years when India did not have a chief guest for the day it showcases its military might and cultural diversity include 1952, 1953 and 1966.
The number of marching contingents from the armed forces will remain the same but the numbers making up each contingent have been reduced from 144 to 96. Each member of the contingent will be wearing a mask—as per the protocol laid down by the Indian government to prevent the transmission of covid-19.
The only exception will be the leader of each contingent who calls out the commands. “The leader will be 10-12 feet in front of the marching contingent so maintaining social distancing is not a problem," said one government official overseeing the parade arrangements this year. Wearing a mask could mean some of the commands called out being unintelligible to those making up the rear of the contingent, the official said, which could result in a lack of coordination.
The ceremonial parade will start as usual at 9:43am with the Presidential Guard escorting President Ram Nath Kovind from Rashtrapati Bhavan to the saluting dias. It will continue for the customary 90 minutes after that. But this year, the parade—which usually starts from Vijay Chowk and winds its way down to the Red Fort and covers a distance of 8.2 km—is expected to terminate at the National Stadium. This means that it will cover just about one third or about 3.3 km, a second official said.
Missing this year at the parade will be the veterans’ contingent that consists of ex-servicemen and women. Also absent will be the motorcycle stunts by troops of the army and the Central Armed Police Force personnel.
Seating arrangements for the public and dignitaries have been specially made keeping the social distancing norms in mind. Chairs have been arranged in such a way that they are separated from each other by several feet. Only 25,000 visitors will be permitted to witness the Republic Day parade compared to the over 100,000 every year. People will not be allowed to line up along the route of the parade.
In keeping with the social distancing rules, the six-day Bharat Parv—showcasing cuisines of various states—usually organized on Rajpath lawns from 26-31 January is also unlikely to be held. Another new additions to this year’s parade include a Territorial Army contingent of the Madras regiment from Andaman and Nicobar islands—the first time the island chain is being presented at a Republic Day parade in New Delhi.
Also participating in the celebrations will be a 122 member strong contingent from Bangladesh’s armed forces given that India and Bangladesh are marking 50 years of the founding of the country. This is only the third time that a foreign armed forces contingent is participating in the Republic Day parade. France sent a contingent in 2016 and the United Arab Emirates sent one in 2017.
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