History made on Rajpath as French troops join in

A four-century-old French regiment, an ex-servicemen tableau and an all-women marching contingent of the CRPF marked the many firsts of the parade to commemorate the 67th Republic Day here on Tuesday.

The parade, cut short by 20 minutes, also saw the return of an Army dog squad after 26 years. A special float on the role of veterans in nation-building was also a first in the parade. But history was made when the 35th Infantry Regiment of France marched down Rajpath, becoming the first foreign contingent to take part in the parade.

Raised in 1604, the regiment fought against the British with support from Haider Ali of the erstwhile kingdom of Mysore in 1781. One of the oldest active regiments of France, it served for three years in the Indian subcontinent as a part of a large French force that was dispatched under the command of Admiral Bailiff of Suffren to provide military assistance to French colonies in India.

The Aquitaine Regiment, as it is also called, was on board a French fleet that fought in north Ceylon (battle of Sadras) and subsequently landed at Portonuevo (now Parangipettai) on the Coromandel Coast, where they captured Cuddalore with the backing of 200 Indian sepoys of the “Mysore kingdom”.

The soldiers returned to France in 1784 and participated in several major campaigns until the revolution of 1789, the French embassy stated. Led by Afghanistan veteran Lt Col Paul Bury, the French soldiers strode the central boulevard at the start of the parade. The audience included French President Francois Hollande, who was the chief guest.

The contingent was accompanied by 48 members from the Music of the Infantry, a ceremonial band based in Lyon in France. They played two military tunes at the parade as the spectators cheered them on. The band was created in 1757 by a royal decree.

Maj Gen Rajesh Sahai, Chief of Staff Delhi Area and the second in command of the parade, said the parade was evolving and foreign contingent should be a regular affair.A special float on the role of military veterans in national building at a time when a section of them are battling the government over better pension package was another highlight.