NEW DELHI (AP) — Thousands of Indians converged on a ceremonial boulevard in the Indian capital to watch a display of the country’s military power and cultural diversity amid tight security during Saturday’s national day celebrations.
Schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through the capital’s parade route on a cold morning, followed by a military hardware display that included M777 Howitzer artillery guns, T-90 main battle tanks, locally made nuclear-capable missile systems and infantry combat vehicles.
Similar parades were held in other Indian states, including Jammu-Kashmir and Manipur, where separatist militants don’t accept Indian rule and called for general strikes.
Police said government forces killed two suspected militants Saturday on the outskirts of Indian-held Kashmir’s main city, Srinagar. A police statement said Indian troops laid a siege in the area based on “credible input” of presence of militants, leading to a gunfight. The slain militants “had serious plans of a terrorist act today,” the statement said.
Suspected militants carried out at least half a dozen grenade attacks in the region on Friday, targeting police and paramilitary camps, police said. There were no reported injuries.
Most Kashmiris support the rebel cause that the territory be united either under Pakistani rule or as an independent country. Authorities shut down the internet on mobile phones in the region, a common tactic to make organizing anti-India protests difficult and discourage dissemination of protest videos.
The possibility of an insurgent attack prompted more than 50,000 police and paramilitary soldiers to guard the parade route in the Indian capital.
South African President Cyril Ramaphosa was the chief guest at the Republic Day parade, which celebrates the anniversary of the adoption of India’s Constitution in 1950. India had first invited President Donald Trump but U.S. officials declined, citing a scheduling issue.
Men, women and children in colorful dresses performed traditional dances and acrobatics on the sun-bathed boulevard, drawing applause from the spectators.
The spectacle ended with Indian air force aircraft whizzing past the saluting base. Millions of Indians watched the 90-minute display on television sets in their homes across the country.
The theme of the parade was the 150th birthday of India’s independence leader, Mohandas Gandhi. Ramaphosa watched with interest and waved at tableaux depicting among other things Gandhi’s life as he won independence for the country from British colonialists in 1947.
Gandhi’s days in South Africa influenced his decision to resist racial segregation and other injustices with nonviolent protests.
Four Indian National Army veterans, aged over 90 years, also took part in the parade, seated on a tableau. They were followers of Subhash Chandra Bose, a Congress party leader who formed an army to fight British colonial rulers with the help of the Japanese in the 1940s.
Bose advocated an armed struggle for Indian independence and led the radical wing of the party in late 1920s and 1930s.
Associated Press writer Aijaz Hussain in Srinagar contributed to this report.