India on Tuesday presented her first woman fighter pilot Flt Lt Bhawana Kanth to be a part of the Republic Day parade on the Rajpath signaling an entry of women in active combat even as IAF’s Rafale combat jets stole the show with its debut performance.
Kanth, who along with Avani Chaturvedi and Mohana Singh, were the first three women fighter pilots of the IAF to stand atop the Indian Air Force tableau along with other fighter pilots saluting the President. She qualified to fly the MiG-21 Bison solo in March 2018 and is posted curretly at an IAF base in the western sector.
The show-stopper for the 72nd Republic Day celebration, however, was the IAF’s latest weapon – the Rafale combat jet that flew twice over the Rajpath.
First in a ‘Vic’ formation flanked by two Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft and two MiG-29 air superiority fighters and finally in a solo flight at a speed of 900 km per hour carrying out a Vertical Charlie maneouvre, piercing the sky while doing a series of rolls. The French origin fighter aircraft won applause from the few thousands of spectators who were present at the India gate lawns.
This year, the national parade was marred by the Covid-19 pandemi, compelling the Centre to cut short the route – it ended at the National Stadium near the India Gate rather than going to the Red Fort – as well as the number of spectators was limited to only 25,000 instead of nearly 1.25 lakh people that were present last year.
Also there was no Chief Guest and the size of each marching contingent was cut down to 96 from the usual 144. The number of enclosure was also cut down to 19 this year from 38 in 2020. The dare devil stunts of motor cycle-borne men and women of the central armed police forces were also missing this time.
One of the special moments of the hour-long show was the presence of a special marching contingent from Bangladesh to celebrate the history scripted by the Indian Army and the ‘Muktijoddhas’ or the ‘Liberation Warriors’ of Bangladesh 50 years ago – ending Pakistan’s repressive rule over “East Pakistan” and giving birth to a new nation.
Incidentally, the naval tableau showcased the Indian Navy’s attack on Karachi harbour in the night of December 4-5, 1971 as the two countries celebrate the 50th anniversary of the 1971 war.