Independence Day awards 1997

A front view of the ramparts of the Red Fort on the occasion of 51st Independence Day in Delhi.

NEW DELHI, Aug 15, 1997(taken from Hindustan times): Tight security dampens I-Day enthusiasm - Meandering through the maze of security outside the Red Fort, very few participants in the Independence Day celebrations could retain their enthusiasm by the time they were seated. It was Prime Minister I. K. Gujral's inspiring speech which was the only redeeming feature in an otherwise dismally managed function today.

So tight was the security that the visitors were not even allowed to take their ball point pens and pencils inside the premises. For the still groggy scribes; unaccustomed to attending a function so early in the morning, such restrictions were the last straw. "How do you expect me to report the event if I do not carry my pen inside, shouted one. A sympathetic security personnel quietly told him to keep the pen inside his pocket. "You are not allowed to take them inside. But if you do, at least keep it hidden somewhere, in your pocket if you like," he advised.

It was after they had entered that most visitors realised that they had been sent to the wrong enclosures. They were instructed to cross over towards the enclosures on the other side of the venue. The Delhi Police officials were surprisingly more helpful than they usually tend to be. They guided the invitees to their respective enclosure and offered advice as to which items could be carried inside and how.

The venue was swarming with school-children dressed in white track-suits, the top decorated with the tricolour. An official commentator mouthed the rhetoric speech laced with the same patriotic platitudes synonymous with the function. The school-children sang the much rehearsed patriotic songs till the Guard of Honour assembled. Half the students were busy trying to guess whether the huge model of the Ashoka Lion, painted in the golden jubilee colour, was a balloon or made of wax or plastic. By then, it was time for the Prime Minister's arrival.

The Prime Minister's entourage seemed to glide into the arena in white ambassadors. The impeccably dressed security guards stood to attention as the Prime Minister shook hands with the Defence Minister. The Defence Secretary introduced the white kurta-pyjama and black jacket-clad Prime Minister to the General Officer Commanding (GOC), Delhi area. Accompanied by the GOC, Delhi area, the Prime Minister then proceeded towards the saluting base and inspected the Guard of Honour.

The solemn occasion was interspersed with loud laughter from the children's quarters just as three helicopters flew over the Red Fort showering flower petals on the distinguished gathering. Whether it was the sound of the helicopters or just the wind nobody knew but when the helicopters were crossing over the inflated figure of the Ashoka Emblem, the figure started to collapse in a heap on the ground. The amused crowd cheered and giggled while the horrified officers looked accusingly at each other.

The National Flag was unfurled and the Guard of Honour presented the National Salute. The band started playing the National Anthem with the simultaneous firing of the 21-gun salute. The flypast which followed, overwhelmed the spectators with their daring display.

Whether the children understood the introspective and candid speech of the Prime Minister or not, they certainly clapped at all the right moments. The speech as usual was not released to the Press but the children seemed to relate to the speech more so than any of the dignitaries present. The Prime Minister seemed to be determined to touch all aspects of development and his address stretched much longer than expected.

The highest peace time gallantary award 'Ashok Chakra' has been posthumously conferred on 2nd Lt. Puneet Datta. The recognition comes in the wake of the sacrifice made by Lt. Datta in July 1997 while single handedly storming a fortified militant hideout in Srinagar, Kashmir. The soldier killed three militants besides destroying a large quantity of ammunition before laying down his life.

Official sources said that four more Shaurya Chakra awards had also been announced in addition to 16 others made public earlier. The awardees include Yashwant Doda Mani and K. Dattatreya Shetty who foiled an attempted dacoity in Karnataka, Jagan Parsi and Pashupati Nath Roy who prevented bank dacoities in Nizamabad and Ghalibpur respectively.