By Bernd Debusmann Jr.
January 27, 2017
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed and Narendra Modi during the 68th Republic Day parade at Rajpath in New Delhi on Thursday. (PTI)
On Thursday - India's Republic Day - I was able to witness history first-hand as His Highness Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the UAE Armed Forces, attended the event as Chief Guest, the latest milestone in the already strong relations between the two nations.
From a personal perspective, for me the visit began at India's Presidential estate, the Rashtrapati Bhavan.
It was there - on the parade ground in front of the red and cream sandstone building designed almost a century ago for India's Viceroys - that Sheikh Mohamed made his grand entrance, escorted by the red-uniformed and lance-armed cavalrymen of India's Presidential Guard, to be welcomed by Indian President Pranab Mukherjee and Prime Minister Narendra Modi.
The vital importance of the visit to the UAE was readily apparent in the crowd of dignitaries that were watching the event. Although I was unable to see the entire delegation - as I had found myself stuck behind a scrum of photographers and cameramen - I did manage to catch a glimpse of some of the UAE's most prominent figures, such as Sheikh Mansour bin Zayed Al Nahyan, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Presidential Affairs and Sheikh Abdullah bin Zayed Al Nayan, Minister of Foreign Affairs and International Cooperation.
The welcoming ceremony itself was an impressive affair, which began with the roaring blasts of ceremonial cannon fire. It was, however, brief. Following an inspection of the Indian Army, Air Force and Navy troops arrayed on the parade ground, a photo opportunity and an exchange of pleasantries with the Indian and Emirati officials present, Sheikh Mohamed took off, to pay his respects at the Raj Ghat - the memorial dedicated to Mahatma Gandhi.
At the Raj Ghat, Sheikh Mohamed watered a tree planted by the late Sheikh Zayed in 1992, which towers above another tree just a few metres planted by his own hand in February of last year. Some were quick to point out that the tree itself is a sign of the UAE and India's deep-rooted and long-term commitment to one another, highlighted most recently by Sheikh Mohamed's invitation to be Chief Guest at Republic Day.
The most significant part of the visit came later that day, at Delhi's Hyderabad House, where - after several hours spent pacing around the gates waiting to be let in by security - journalists at the scene were ushered past dozens of UAE and Indian flags to an upstairs press conference, where the 14 MoUs and agreements were signed by smiling UAE ministers and their Indian counterparts, ranging from a Comprehensive Strategic Partnership to defence and maritime cooperation, cyberspace, energy, Small and Medium Enterprises and agriculture.
Once everything was signed, it was time for Modi and Sheikh Mohamed to speak. The two men's remarks - as I expected - were focused on the strong history of friendship between the UAE and India, highlighted the importance of the visit, and expressed optimism at what tomorrow might hold for the two countries.
"Moving forward, our cooperation stands poised for a major take off," Modi said, turning to his right to face Sheikh Mohamed, whom he had just referred to as a 'dear friend'. "I am confident, Your Highness, that your visit will build on the strong gains and understanding of our previous interactions."
The Indian PM concluded his remarks by delivering a sincere 'thank you' to Sheikh Mohamed, with both men seemingly at ease with and genuinely fond of each other.
As the morning dawned on Republic Day on Thursday, the weather in Delhi was dark and unpleasant, with ominous grey clouds hovering over the parade ground, and a light, cold drizzle falling from the sky, later turning into a torrential downpour which left me drenched and shivering.
However, while the weather may have been bad, the atmosphere was anything but, and a palpable sense of excitement was in the air as Sheikh Mohamed and President Pranab Mukherjee descended the steps of the palace side by side, from which they were escorted to join PM Modi to watch the parade.
The presence of UAE troops leading the parade - behind only the parade commander, his second-in-command, and award winners - was a moment of pride and a moving symbol of togetherness between the UAE and India, with the troops being met with applause and approval from the massive crowed arrayed on the Rajpath.
By the time the parade was over and Sheikh Mohamed had seen the military hardware and cultural tableaux that India had put on display, there was little doubt that the occasion had meant a lot to both parties.
In a series of Tweets - made as the parade was still ongoing - Sheikh Mohamed perhaps put it best by saying that "Republic Day is an example of how positive values propel nations into greatness."
"This is something that we in the UAE take at heart," he wrote. "The UAE's participation in Republic Day celebrations reflects the depth of our ties."
The day ended quietly, with us reporters filing our stories and editing videos, and the UAE delegation slowly trickling away after saying their goodbyes and exchanging contact details with Indian dignitaries and businessmen in the lobbies of the Taj Palace and Leela hotels.
The trip's legacy, however, will live on, as the UAE and India begin a new era of friendship and brotherly understanding.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed hit it off with Narendra Modi on day one when he arrived to a grand welcome and a warm hug on January 24 in India's capital New Delhi on a three-day visit.
History was made when the high-powered delegations led by the both leaders signed 14 agreements covering areas spanning infrastructure, defence and space, on January 25.
Sheikh Mohamed bin Zayed, the Chief Guest of the Republic Day function, witnessed the opulent parade where a contingent of Emirati soldiers led the march from the front.
16 MoUs were signed between UAE and India
60% increase in trade both countries aim to achieve in next 5 years
149 Emirati soldiers led the R-Day parade in New Delhi
Bernd Debusmann Jr., Originally from Mexico City, I've been in Dubai since January 2015. Before arriving in in the UAE I worked as a general news reporter in TV and print in Mexico City, NYC and Washington DC. I'm interested in defence issues, politics, technology, aviation and history. In my spare time i enjoy traveling and football - I'm a keen fan of Chelsea FC. I developed an interest in the Middle East traveling through Jordan and the West Bank. I have a BA in Political Science from Dickinson College in the USA and an MA in International Journalism from City University London.