NEW DELHI — India Jan. 26 celebrated its 69th Republic Day with the 10 leaders of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, who got a close look at the country's military might, cultural diversity and many achievements at the annual grand parade here.

It was for the first time that 10 guests of honor – from all 10 ASEAN countries – were invited to the annual official celebrations, signifying India's growing strategic interests in its eastern neighborhood that surrounds the maritime underbelly of Asia – the Indo-Pacific.

Despite a thick fog blanketing the city, hundreds turned up on both sides of Rajpath in the heart of Delhi to watch the eight kilometer march that – with the imposing Rashtrapati Bhavan in the backdrop – wound its way from Raisina Hill to the 17th century Red Fort.

The day began with President Ram Nath Kovind unfurling the Indian flag at Rashtrapati Bhavan and Prime Minister Narendra Modi paying tribute to the fallen soldiers at the Amar Jawan Jyoti near India Gate.

Wearing a multi-colored turban, Modi personally invited the 10 ASEAN guests to the stage where top government leaders, including Kovind and Defense Minister Nirmala Sitharaman, were also seated. 

President Kovind, the commander-in-chief of the armed forces, took his first Republic Day salute as the parade was led by Army personnel carrying the ASEAN flag and flags of all 10 ASEAN nations.

Kovind’s salute was followed by military and paramilitary contingents, including mounted troops from the 61st Cavalry and mechanized columns. Martial music filled the air as soldiers drawn from some of the finest military units marched with clockwork precision. 

Paramilitary personnel and Delhi Police also walked, step to step.

The Army's T-90 tank (Bhishma), Ballway Machine Pikate (II/IIK), the Brahmos Missile System, weapon locating radar (Swathi), bridge laying tank T-72, mobile base transceiver station and Akash weapon system were among the main draws in the mechanized columns.

Women BSF officers on 26 350CC Royal Enfield motorcycles performed acrobatics and daredevil stunts and were quite the head-turners. There was a loud cheer as the "Seema Bhawani" contingent performed fish riding, four harmony, sapt Rishi, brahma yog guldasta, seema prahari and a flag march pyramid.

It was a first all-women contingent – led by Sub Inspector Stanzin Noryang, an officer from Jammu and Kashmir's Ladakh region – from any force to perform biking stunts at the annual event.

Making its debut on the occasion was the country's first indigenously-built Weapon System Integrated helicopter Rudra, designed and developed by the Hindustan Aeronautics, Ltd.

After the armed forces came state tableaux, displaying India's oneness amid a rich diversity.

The tableau of the All India Radio featured Modi's monthly address 'Mann Ki Baat.' An Income Tax Department tableau "Swachh Dhan" displayed its fight to battle black money.

The 90-minute ceremonial parade ended with a spectacular fly past by the Air Force, despite foggy conditions. Light combat aircraft Tejas, Jaguars and MiG-29 maneuvered in various formations over the Rajpath skies.

The Sukhoi-30 MKI aircraft split upwards, making a 'Trishul' in the sky, and another fighter plane performed 'vertical charlie' maneuver over the saluting dais, leaving the spectators in awe.

Fifteen of the 18 children who won the National Bravery Award also participated in the parade. Two girls and a boy were given the award posthumously.

School children from Delhi, Nagpur and Dimapur performed dances presenting different themes.

The military parade was commanded by Lt. Gen. Asit Mistry, general officer commanding, Headquarters Delhi Area.

Amid fears of possible terror attacks, a tight security blanket was thrown around the national capital including the venue. Nearly 60,000 police and paramilitary personnel were deployed across Delhi.

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