Manmohan Watches Bastille Day Parade

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has become the first foreign head of a government invited to watch the well ordered march down Champs Elysees that marks France’s national day.

French President Nicholas Sarkozy welcomed Manmohan Singh with open arms, moments before soldiers of the Maratha Light Infantry led the marchers from the Arc de Triomphe, heralding a new chapter in India-France ties.

As the two leaders sat down next to each other to watch the parade, an intricate cavalry maneuver set to music and then came flypast of several planes, made in France in different eras. Behind them sat their spouses, Carla Bruni and Gursharan Kaur.

As the contingents of the Indian Army, Navy and Air Force moved past the saluting base, Manmohan Singh seemed delighted and filled with pride. The army was led by Capt Vivek Khanduri, the Air Force by Sqn Ldr Alok Sharma and the Navy by Comm Rajiv Sharma.

The Indians marched to the tune of “Haste Lushai” and “Kadam, kadam badhaye ja”. They were followed by marching contingents of the French armed forces.

It may be mentioned that the Maratha Light Infantry is one of the oldest and most famous regiments of India, with its history going back 235 years. In the 18th and 19th centuries, the units of the regiment fought in several campaigns, including China, Burma, Africa and Abyssinia. It also fought during World War I and World War II.

A million Indian soldiers fought in World War I, including at two places in France – Somme and Givenchy. Around 100,000 Indians died in that war. More than 2.5 million Indians fought on the side of the Allies in World War II, apart from the country providing military bases and feeding a large percentage of Allied soldiers.

Manmohan Singh landed here Monday evening for his brief visit and was received by Justice Minister Michelle Alliot-Marie.

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