President Obama in India: Rainy Republic Day

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New Delhi – President Barack Obama along with First Lady Michelle Obama departed the hotel at 9:35 a.m. local time and arrived at the parade at 9:55 a.m. President Obama emerged from the beast and was warmly greeted by Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who was wearing a green safa with a large, red circular plume and an orange scarf attached at the back. Obama, clad in a long black unbuttoned coat, and Modi shook hands and Obama clutched Modi’s left arm. First Lady Michelle Obama, wearing a black coat and red scarf, followed the president out of the limo and greeted Modi.

Obama is the first US president to attend the Republic Day parade. The rain-soaked crowd cheered as the president and first lady arrived. The announcer declared that it was “a proud moment for every Indian.” Obama waved to the crowds and made his way to the viewing stand, which was open on the top and had a large row of windows at the front; below the windows the booth was enclosed and decorated with garlands of flowers. The back of the stand was lavishly decorated with red, white and green flowers. What appeared to be a large, maroon parasol sat in the middle of the stand, surrounded by chairs. Obama was sitting between Modi and Indian President Pranab Mukherjee.

There was a 21-gun salute as the parade kicked off a bit after 10 a.m. Russian MG helicopters flew overhead – an early reminder that most of India’s arms come from Russia – followed by a procession of Indian military members. The parade was an impressive display of military strength, featuring an array of tanks and military equipment. Multiple helicopter flyovers proceeded despite the steady rain.

A number of military units made their way down the boulevard; one group rode in green jeeps, the military members standing on the back, saluting and facing toward the viewing stand as all military members are doing.

President Mukherjee stood inside the booth, saluting. President Obama sat in a chair, nodding at the procession. At one point Obama popped a piece of gum into his mouth. Rain ran down the windows that shielded the leaders.

A cavalry unit on horseback, riders holding flags and wearing black and gold uniforms with red trim and gold rode by the stand. A group of Russian-made T-90 tanks, painted a light yellow-green and a dark green, rolled down the street. According to Indian TV they have a maximum speed of 60 km/hour.

They were followed by more military equipment, including a rocket launcher system with yellow rocket heads sticking out of the front and advanced light helicopters that flew in formation over the parade.

A float shaped like Mt. Everest rolled by; it honored a group of women army officers who climbed Everest. They wore red mountaineering jackets, and it was the first time that women officers were honored.

A regiment of Sikh officers, clad in saffron-colored turbans, walked by, their arms swinging. It is also the first time that an all-female contingent of Army, Navy and Air Force officers marched. Military bands also made their way down the street.

Despite the unpleasant weather, the massive crowd remained enthusiastic. Thousands of green seats, as well as green bleachers, were filled as far as we could see.

For a moment, the highlight appeared to be a military unit mounted on camels. But that was quickly trumped by a military band mounted on camels. Playing a tuba on a camel was no small feat. Both riders and camels were outfitted in elaborate bright red and orange uniforms. Among the many military bands, one distinguished itself by playing the bagpipes.

The second hour of the parade featured numerous elaborate floats showcasing a variety of cultures, activities and ornate costumes. One memorable float included an enormous crab with moving, snapping parts. Elaborate, ornate floats were reminiscent of ones that roll during Mardi Gras and the Tournament of Roses Parade.

The television cut a number of times to Obama and Modi. During a few shots the men were leaning over toward one another, chatting and gesturing. Modi was wearing dark glasses despite the overcast weather and Obama chewed gum at certain points.

Obama smiled as he watched a group of children in blue uniforms dance and was shown clapping after another performance. First Lady Michelle Obama smiled as a large group of children clad in bright, shiny jumpsuits performed a dance.

The US delegation, including White House Counselor John Podesta, National Security Adviser Susan Rice and members of Congress, including Rep. Joe Crowley, were shown sitting in green chairs and looked wet. House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi had a brightly-colored scarf draped over her head and was seen snapping photos.

One float paid tribute to the Sultanpur Bird Sanctuary and had a massive bird, its wings flapping, at the front of the float. People with bird costumes around their waists walked alongside the float. Another showcased cardamom cultivation and was decorated with large cardamom pods, flowers and leaves, and people danced on the street as the float rolled down the street. Another float had the theme of “Love and matchmaking,” per the TV. One featured a lion made out of gears, some of which moved, represented Modi’s “Make In India” campaign, which aims to turn India into a manufacturing hub.

Perhaps the most impressive part of the parade was the motorcycle display, where people on the back of motorcycles stood on ladders and balanced in frightening positions. One man stood perched on a ladder on the back of a motorcycle; another man tucked his legs under a ladder rung, his back flat to the ground. A number of people clad in blue, who appeared to be strapped together, were supposed to look like a peacock; they held discs that made the display look like a peacock plume. Another group of people who were strapped together lay flat high in the air, making it appear that they were flying while riding on the back of the motorcycle.

Obama gave the motorcycle display a thumbs up and looked happy toward end of the parade, a small smile on his face. A final flyover marked the conclusion of the celebration.

Obama and Modi waved to the crowd as balloons the color of the Indian flag – orange, green and white – were released into the sky. Obama, Modi, Mukherjee and the others in the booth walked out down a long pathway and waved to an excited, cheering crowd. The three men stopped at the end of the path. A man was shown holding up a sign that read We (heart) Obama.

The White House journalists were presented with a 167-page book explaining the Republic Day parade. Both Hindi and English translations are available.

At 12:01 p.m, the motorcade departed the parade, arriving back at the president’s hotel eight minutes later.

Obama will cut his trip short, however, due to the death of Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah. Instead of visiting the Taj Mahal on Tuesday, he will leave for Saudi Arabia to pay his respects.

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