Women empowerment (Nari Shakti) was on full display during the 70th Republic Day parade on Rajpath on Saturday as all women Assam Rifles contingent created history by participating in the parade for the first time, led by a daughter of bus conductor Major Khushboo Kanwar.

Women officers took the centre stage as contingents of the Navy, India Army Service Corps and a unit of Corps of Signals (transportable satellite terminal) were all led by them.

Capt Shikha Surabhi from the Corps of Signals was at the centre of attraction as she became the first woman to perform bike stunts, alongside her male teammates as part of daredevils. She saluted President Ram Nath Kovind while standing atop the seat of her motorcycle.

Leading the contingent of the oldest paramilitary force in the country (Assam Rifles), thirty-year-old Major Khushboo — inducted into the Indian Army in 2012 and has been actively involved in many counter insurgency operations — said, “I am a daughter of a bus conductor from Rajasthan and if I can accomplish this, then any girl can fulfil her dream.”

On this Republic day, the country witnessed several things for the first time: Participation of Gorkha Rifles and INA Veterans-Parmanand, Lalti Ram, Hira Singh and Bhagmal, all aged over 90 years, display of American howitzers M777, the Main Battle Tank (MBT) T-90 and indigenously developed Akash weapons system and conferring India’s highest peacetime gallantry award Ashoka Chakra to Lance Naik Nazir Ahmad Wani, a militant-turned-soldier who laid down his life fighting a group of terrorists in Shopian in Kashmir in November. Wani’s wife Mahajabeen and mother Raja Bano received the award.

South African President Ramaphosa was the Chief Guest at the 90-minute celebrations. This year, a total of 22 tableaux, 16 from States and Union Territories and six from Central Government Ministries and departments, were part of the cultural parade, the overall theme of which was life and ideals of Mahatma Gandhi.

Ramphosa’s presence at the event was significant as India is celebrating 150th birth anniversary of the Father of the Nation, who spent 21 years in South Africa before returning to India to join the freedom struggle.

The parade ceremony commenced with Prime Minister Narendra Modi, wearing a yellow -orange bandej turban, leading the nation in paying homage to the fallen soldiers by laying a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti under India Gate. Following the tradition, after unfurling the tri-colour, the national anthem was played with a 21 gun salute following which President Kovind took the salute of marching contingents.

Alongside Ramphosa, the ceremonial parade was watched by Vice President M Venkaiah Naidu, former Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, Congress President Rahul Gandhi and the country’s top political and military brass.

The tableau of Maharashtra portrayed Quit India movement while the tableau of Andaman and Nicobar showcased Gandhiji’s role among the inmates of the cellular jail in Andaman. Jallianwala Bagh was the theme of Punjab tableau, which will evoke memories of the watershed moment in the Independence struggle.

Models of the aircraft, radar and missile system which have been indigenously designed and manufactured were showcased. The models displayed were Light Combat Aircraft (LCA), Low-Level Light Weight Radar (LLLWR), Sukhoi-30MKI and Akash missile system.

The grand finale of the parade was a spectacular flypast by the IAF. The flypast commenced with the ‘Rudra’ formation comprising three advanced light helicopters in ‘Vic’ formation, followed by the ‘Hercules’ formation comprising three C-130J Super Hercules aircraft. One C-17 Globemaster flanked by two Su-30MKI fighter jets also displayed their aerial manoeuvring. Next in line was five Jaguar deep penetration strike aircraft, in Arrowhead formation. Following the Jaguars were five MiG-29 upgraded air superiority fighters in ‘Arrowhead’ formation. The culmination of the parade was a lone Su-30MKI flying at a speed of 900 km/hr with a ‘Vertical Charlie’ manoeuvre over the saluting dais. PM Modi waved to the crowd after the conclusion of the ceremony and were greeted with loud cheers.