The coronavirus pandemic cast its long shadow over the 74th Independence Day function at the Red Fort here on Saturday, with celebrations remaining conspicuously muted and low-key.
This year’s event was also unique in many ways — attendees sporting face masks while maintaining social distance, absence of children, and fewer VVIPs.
Meeting children after his address to the nation has been an annual ritual for Prime Minister Narendra Modi ever since he took charge in 2014. However, keeping in view the health safety aspect, National Cadet Corps members were invited to witness the event this year, instead of young school children.
In his address to the nation from the fort ramparts, Modi pointed to the absence of children, the future of the country, at the celebrations due to coronavirus. “I cannot see young children in front of me today,” he said.
The event was low-key in terms of participation of the number of people as well, with emphasis on the broadcast of the event. Union Home Minister Amit Shah and Ayush Minister Sripad Naik, who are in home isolation, were conspicuous absentees.
Compared with the past, only 20 per cent of the VVIPs or other participants were present at the function on Saturday. Around 4,000 plus invites were issued to senior officers, diplomats, members of the public, media etc.
Factoring in the COVID-19 precautions, participation was only through invitation and those without any formal invite were requested to refrain from reaching the venue.
The seating arrangements too were as per the social distancing guidelines, with fewer chairs compared with normal times. All invitees were requested to wear face masks. Before the event, members of the Guard of Honour were quarantined to ensure safety of all participants.
Also, face masks were kept handy for distribution at various entry points to the venue. Similarly, hand sanitisers were made available at different spots.
A number of medical care booths were set up at four spots in case any attendee was detected with coronavirus symptoms during entry. Thermal screening was done at all entry points and ambulances stationed at four locations.
Amid the sombre atmosphere, there was one constant — the Prime Minister’s colourful turban. Every year, he adds a dash of colour to his turban for the Independence Day and Republic Day celebrations. His sartorial choices have always stood out and won him praise.
This year, Modi opted for a predominant mix of orange and yellow Rajasthani headgear. He also donned his trademark light cream half-sleeve taut ‘churidar’ and teamed it with a white-and-orange stole.
( can be contacted at [email protected])