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Colours of India in France
Maratha Light Infantry soldiers march down Champs Elysees on French National Day
Anita Katyal writes from Paris

India made an impressive splash on the Champs Elysees in Paris at the French Bastille Day military parade on Tuesday.

As a 400-strong contingent of the Indian Armed Forces marched in step with the French soldiers on what Parisians describe as the “most beautiful avenue in the world”, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was present to applaud their efforts as the guest of honour at the French National Day celebrations - the first foreign leader to be accorded the honour.

German President Horst Koehler and Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen were also invited to review the military parade. French President Nicolas Sarkozy was the chief guest at India’s Republic Day parade last year.

Sarkozy ‘s visit to India, followed closely by the Indian presence at the Bastille Day celebrations today, is seen as a reflection of the deepening bilateral relations between New Delhi and Paris.

The close friendship between President Sarkozy and Manmohan Singh was quite evident as the French President greeted the Indian leaders with open arms.

The two then took seats next to each other to watch the parade. But nobody could ignore the presence of French First Lady Carla Bruni Sarkozy, who was seated alongside Gursharan Kaur, wife of the Indian PM, in the first row.

The parade opened with a fly-past by nearly a 100 French aircraft, including the Rafale Fighter planes that dispersed the skies with red, blue and white vapour, representing the colours of the French flag.

This was followed by the parade led by the Indian contingent, commanded by Air Commodore RK Mathur, comprising marching columns and military bands from the Army, Navy and Air Force.

The sounds of Indian martial music and Iqbal’s uplifting score “Saare jahaan se achcha” filled the summer air while soldiers from the Maratha Light Infantry, with their red and black headgear, proved to be virtual showstoppers.

Smartly attired personnel from the French armed forces followed the Indian contingent till the Arc de Triomphe. It is on July 14 that France celebrates the beginning of its revolution more than 200 years ago with the storming of the Bastille prison in 1789.

According to the French ambassador to India Jerome Bonnafont, participation of Indian soldiers in the French National Day parade marked the commemoration of their participation “on our side and in our territory during the two world wars.”

The parade, reminiscent of India’s Republic Day celebrations, was watched by thousands of spectators who had spent the previous night partying and showed no intention of winding up till late in the night. But it was not just party time for Prime Minister Singh, who also managed to squeeze in some serious business in between the celebrations. President Sarkozy hosted a lunch for the guest of honour where the two leaders went through a plateful of issues that dominate and define the close partnership between India and France.

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