7 JULY 2009
NEW DELHI — A contingent of Indian troops left for Paris Wednesday to join French soldiers in next week's Bastille Day parade where the Indian premier will be the guest of honour, officials said.
Some 310 soldiers will parade down the Champs Elysees on July 14 to the sound of Indian martial music played by a 90-member military band.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who is currently in Italy for the G8 summit, was invited to attend the event as guest of honour by French President Nicolas Sarkozy, who attended India's Republic Day celebrations in January 2008.
"It is a proud day for India as our troops will march in a country where they fought during World War I," defence ministry spokesman Sitanshu Kar told AFP as the contingent left on board two Airbus planes sent by France.
Indian soldiers under British command were part of two Allied divisions that fought the Germans around the northern French town of Neuve-Chapelle in March 1915.
The France-bound soldiers, drawn from the army, navy and the airforce, said they had been practising since May for the 1.5-kilometre (one mile) parade.
"Our boys are all on cloud nine," said captain Vivek Khandoori. "I hope we get to practice at least once on the Champs Elysees.
"We are also looking forward to French wine," the 26-year-old captain added.
Only 21 soldiers in the contingent have travelled abroad before -- mainly on UN missions.
France, which last year backed New Delhi's quest for a global waiver on civilian nuclear commerce, is one of the key arms suppliers for India's technology-hungry military.
Some 310 soldiers will parade down the Champs Elysees on July 14