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The Indian armed forces and petals: Yet another entertainer for the Indian public?

Chief of Defence Staff General Bipin Rawat

The Narendra Modi government has once again announced a drill that has already been executed in the West. On Friday, the Chief of Defence Staff (CDS) General Bipin Rawat, along with the three service chiefs, declared that the Indian Air Force would conduct fly-pasts across the country on May 3, showering flower petals on medical facilities treating COVID-19 patients as a tribute to all “corona warriors”. The Navy would also illuminate its vessels on the same day, he added.

The exercise is likely to be yet another entertainer for the Indian public. However, the grandiose exercise may lose its novelty – the US Navy’s Blue Angels and the US Air Force’s Thunderbirds conducted a similar drill in several American cities on April 28.

A week ago, the Pentagon, the headquarters of the United States Department of Defense, had announced that the Blue Angels and the Thunderbirds would conduct air salutes to express its gratitude to all those who are at the frontlines of the fight against the coronavirus. It dubbed the initiative as “Operation America Strong” to champion national unity.

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The Thunderbirds and the Blue Angels are demonstration squadrons which were founded in the decade after World War II. The Pentagon said that they would fly together over York, Washington, Baltimore, Newark, Trenton, Philadelphia, Atlanta, Dallas, Houston and Austin.

While the Indian armed forces do not have such dedicated squadrons, it is hard to miss the obvious similarities between the two planned stunts. General Rawat said that the Air Force would fly both its fighter and transport jets from Srinagar to Trivandrum, and from Dibrugarh in Assam to Kutch in Gujarat.

One could say that the idea of showering petals is different, but petals made an appearance during Uttar Pradesh chief minister Adityanath’s Kanwar Yatra in 2018.

Inspiration or imitation?

In March, we also saw the prime minister ask people to come out on their balconies and bang thalis in appreciation of essential workers. Later, he asked the Indian public to step out for nine minutes and light lamps. Both these calls bore resemblances to events in Italy where people came out onto their balconies to sing, play music, and dance in support of healthcare workers. Days ahead of Modi’s announcement, videos of such European events had gone viral on social media.

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Now, the Indian government has instructed its armed forces to take a leaf out of an American initiative even though the air tribute led to many Americans flouting physical distancing norms. Hundreds packed the streets and parks of New York, walked shoulder to shoulder, to catch a glimpse of the Blue Angels and Thunderbirds performing.

The Indian enterprise will most likely go the same way too, and may cause greater havoc than the US. To start with, hospitals will have the additional task of clearing their premises of flower petals once the tribute exercise is done and dusted.

Nonetheless, the armed forces are set to create a spectacle on May 3, and it will receive widespread applause. The next time the Modi government plans an exercise like this, a little originality would be appreciated.