New Delhi: Thousands of people braved a morning chill Wednesday on a ceremonial boulevard in India's capital to watch a display of the country's military power and cultural diversity, but the colourful annual Republic Day spectacle was curtailed amid COVID-19.
Nearly 500 schoolchildren, folk dancers, police and military battalions, floats and stunt performers on motorbikes paraded from the presidential palace down the refurbished tree-lined boulevard of Rajpath.
President Ram Nath Kovind received salutes from the marching columns, which included a camel-mounted regiment with its mustachioed riders led by shiny brass bands with tubas. Prime Minister Narendra Modi, government ministers and foreign diplomats applauded the performers.
The 90-minute parade ended with a flypast featuring 75 air force fighters, including Rafale jets, transport planes and helicopters.
Republic Day marks the anniversary of the adoption of the country's constitution on January 26, 1950. India won independence from British colonial rule in 1947.
The parade started half an hour late to ensure better visibility for participants and of the flypast. Authorities also shortened the parade route, which normally culminates at the 17th century Red Fort after marching through various districts.
The number of people watching the parade was limited and included only fully vaccinated adults and children over 15 who have had at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine. All spectators were required to wear masks and observe social distance.
Omicron infections have begun declining in big cities like New Delhi, Mumbai and Kolkata, and authorities are now focused on curbing infections in smaller cities, towns and villages.
On Wednesday, the Health Ministry reported 285,000 new cases, including both delta and omicron variants, and 665 deaths across the country in the past 24 hours, with a test positivity rate of 16.16%.
India's government also announced civilian awards in art, trade, literature, science, social work and other fields. Satya Narayana Nadella and Sundararajan Pichai, the Indian-born American CEOs of Microsoft and Alphabet Inc. and its subsidiary Google, respectively, were among those honored.
Indian media reports said the country had planned to invite leaders of five Central Asian countries - including Turkmenistan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Tajikistan and Kyrgyzstan - as guests at the Republic Day parade, but canceled the plan due to the pandemic. Modi will hold a virtual summit with the leaders of these countries on Thursday to discuss the evolving regional security situation, including with regard to Afghanistan.
India traditionally invites foreign leaders to witness the parade. Former French President Francois Hollande was the guest of honor in 2016 and former U.S. President Barack Obama viewed it in 2015. Ten Southeast Asian leaders watched the parade in 2018.