By Hu Bofeng
An Indian Border Security Force band performs on camel-back.
India held a grand military parade in New Delhi to celebrate its 70th Republic Day (R-Day) on January 26, 2019. The Indian Army displayed weapons and equipment including T-90 main battle tanks, C-130 transport aircraft and Su-30 fighter jets. In addition, 146 female soldiers of the all-women Assam Rifles contingent also marched in the military parade for the first time.
We can see highlights as soldiers riding costumed camels, building“human pyramids” on moving motorcycles and so on. These distinctive Indian parade plots are often interpreted as “crazy” or “bizarre.” However, this shows their respect for historical traditions.
The Border Security Force (BSF) camel contingent has almost never been absent since it participated in India’s military parade in 1976. The Indian audience will never fail to cheer whenever the lead camel with traditional Indian pompoms appears on Rajpath, the ceremonial boulevard. They cheer because the camel contingent once played an irreplaceable role in the Indo-Pakistani War of 1971. The impressive motorcycle stunt team (Dispatch Riders) is a British military tradition with Indian stunt elements. The stunt show is not only impressive, but also demonstrates the remote control technology of the Indian Army Corps of Signals.
Teams taking part in the military parade are classified by ethnic groups, rather than their arms and services, and thus we can see teams in colorful and classical uniforms. The Indian's R-Day parade is a display of military might, and more importantly, is a display of cultural traditions and historical heritage, which shows respect and sense of belonging to their national traditions.
The excellent use of home diplomatic platform is another feature. Since 1950, India has started the tradition of inviting important foreign leaders to military parade. And the R-Day parade has become a “weather vane” of Indian diplomacy after Narendra Modi took office. India has successively invited US President Barack Obama, French President François Hollande, and Saudi Arabian Crown Prince Mohammad bin Salman to attend the ceremony since 2015. Last year, India broke the tradition of inviting only one foreign leader and invited the leaders of 10 ASEAN countries. And this year, the guest of honor was President Cyril Ramaphosa of South Africa since US President Donald Trump was unable to attend due to “schedule.” The mystery behind the invitation is related to the Indo-Pacific thinking of India. And at the same time, India also has the intention to show off its powerful diplomacy in order to win support from the people.
The election wrangle is also reflected in the parade. A senior reporter based in India said that among the 16 states participating in the float parade, the three states where the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party lost to the Indian National Congress in elections held last year, were absent, exposing Bharatiya Janata Party’s calculations. As for the states in the parade ruled by the opposition party, the Bharatiya Janata Party will draw them to its side or reassure them in the upcoming general election.
Modi interacted with the crowd as he did in previous years after the parade. The crowd responded forcefully with slogans dedicated to India and Modi. Another reporter who has been working in India for many years said that the previous Indian prime ministers rarely interacted with the people at military parades. Modi brought this popular Western political culture to India. Modi’s style and respect for tradition embodied in the military parade are inextricably associated with the current nationalist sentiments in India.