In view of the COVID-19 pandemic, the celebrations will take place with many changes, including a shorter route for the parade and much less public participation in the event. The overall scale and size of the parade has also been restricted
The Republic Day celebrations at Rajpath next week are likely to see a number of changes including smaller marching contingents, shorter distance for the parade and fewer spectators compared to the previous years in view of the coronavirus pandemic.
India will mark its 72nd Republic Day this year, and it will be the first major public event in since the COVID-19 outbreak.
This is also the second year in a row that the parade will be held under the shadow of protests. In 2020, the parade was held under raging protests against the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA).
This year, the event will occur amid the backdrop of farmer’s protests. Thousands of farmers from across the country have been protesting at several Delhi border points against the Centre’s new agriculture laws for nearly two months.
The unions representing the farmers have already begun holding tractor rallies at villages in Punjab to mobilise people for the demonstration on Republic Day.
In view of the pandemic, the celebrations will take place with many changes, including a shorter route for the parade and less public participation in the event. The overall scale and size of the parade have also been restricted.
No chief guest
For starters, there will no chief guest this year. As per the Ministry of External Affairs, there will be no foreign leader as the chief guest at the Republic Day celebrations due to the global situation arising out of the coronavirus pandemic.
It will be for the first time in over five decades that India will not have a chief guest at the Republic Day Parade.
“Due to the global COVID-19 situation, it has been decided that this year there will not be a foreign head of state or head of government as the chief guest for our Republic Day event,” said MEA Spokesperson Anurag Srivastava, during a media briefing earlier this month.
The decision was taken after UK prime minister Boris Johnson’s last-minute decision to cancel his visit due to the spread of a mutant strain of the coronavirus in the UK.
Johnson, accepting India’s invitation to be the Republic Day chief guest, called it “a great honour”.
As per PTI, 25,000 spectators will be allowed to witness the celebrations as against a normal crowd of around 1 lakh and that children below 15 years of age will not be allowed entry.
The tickets for the general public have been also been limited to 4,500 this year.
Similarly, the size of the marching contingents is likely to be brought down from around 144 in each contingent to around 96. Each member of the contingent will be wearing a mask, as per the protocol laid down by the government to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 .
Meanwhile, the seating arrangements for the public and dignitaries have been made keeping in mind social distancing norms. Chairs have been separated by several feet.
The parade — which usually starts from Vijay Chowk and winds its way down to the Red Fort and covers a distance of 8.2 kilometres — is expected to terminate at the National Stadium. This means that it will cover just about one third or about 3.3 km, reported Mint.
As per The Indian Express, the tableaux will be allowed to perform at Red Fort. Among the 32 tableaux in the parade, the Union Territory of Ladakh will be participating for the first time. It will showcase the Indian Astronomical Observatory, located at Hanle near Leh, one of the world’s highest sites for optical, infrared and gamma-ray telescopes.
‘Safe bubbles’ and increased security
Over 2,000 Indian Army personnel have arrived in Delhi since late November for Republic Day and Army Day parades and they are being kept in a “safe bubble”.
The “safe bubble”, created in the Cantonment area, comprises a large number of camps and those selected to stay in them will have almost “zero connectivity” with the outside world till the Republic Day celebrations on 26 January are over.
The Delhi Police has also come up with an elaborate plan for security during the event. Nearly 75 percent (more than 65,000) of the city’s 87,000 police personnel will be on duty, supported by heavy barricading at many intersections, checkpoints on arterial roads, iron barricading at borders, and sniffer dogs and metal detectors along Rajpath and the India Gate roundabout, through which the Republic Day Parade passes, a senior police officer told ThePrint.
In a new addition this year, at least 122 soldiers of the Bangladesh Armed Forces will be taking part in the parade. According to a press statement issued by the High Commission of India in Dhaka, this is only the third time since Independence that a foreign military contingent has been invited to participate in the national parade.
Veteran Day’s parade, CAPF motorcycle stunts cancelled
According to Hindustan Times, the veterans’ parade by ex-servicemen and women, too, has been called off, and so has the parade by recipients of the national bravery awards.
Government officials told the newspaper said these events were cancelled because the elderly and children are more susceptible to contract COVID-19 .
Even the motorcycle stunts by troops of the army and the Central Armed Police Force (CAPF) personnel have been cancelled.
Farmers’ tractor rally
Thousands of farmers are set to participate in a tractor rally on 26 January in Delhi, as farmers’ leaders claimed on Saturday that the Delhi Police has granted permission for the mega event.
However, Delhi Police Additional Public Relation Officer Anil Mittal was quoted by PTI as saying, “We are in the final stages of talks with the farmers.”
It is unlikely that this rally will effect the parade as farmers have agreed to begin only after the completion of the official parade on Rajpath and not to venture beyond areas adjoining the protest sites. Farmers union leaders have also underlined the rally will be peaceful and they will stick to the pre-decided route.
Over two lakh tractors are expected to take part in the parade and there will be around five routes. The tractor parades will be taken out only after 12 pm, after the Republic Day Parade on Delhi’s Rajpath concludes, according to protesting farmer unions.
Farmer leaders said that five routes have been decided in-principle and farmers will cover 100 kilometres with tractors on every route, and added that 70 to 78 percent of the routes will culminate inside Delhi while the remaining will be outside the National Capital.
PTI quoted sources as saying that one possible route for the tractor parade from Singhu border will be to Sanjay Gandhi Transport Nagar and it will pass through the Kanjhawala and Bawana areas and then return to the protest site.
Farmers camping at the Tikri border point will start their tractor parade from the protest site and cover areas like Nangloi, Najafgarh, Badli, and Kundli-Manesar Palwal (KMP) Expressway, they said.
For farmers camping at the Ghazipur border point, their tractor parade will cover areas like Apsra border-Ghaziabad-Duhai and return to Ghazipur, the sources said.
Meanwhile, a control room has been set up by the unions to make arrangements for the 26 January tractor parade.
A farmer leader said that 2,500 volunteers will be deployed to facilitate the movement of tractors, but their number could be increased depending upon the crowd.
With inputs from PTI
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