NEW DELHI: 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.
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 US officials declined, citing a scheduling issue.
Schoolchildren, folk dancers, and police and military battalions marched through the capital’s parade route on a cold morning, followed by the military hardware display that included M777 American Ultra Light Howitzers artillery guns, T-90 main battle tanks, locally made nuclear-capable missile systems and infantry combat vehicles.
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.
Similar parades were held in Indian states, including Jammu-Kashmir and Manipur, where separatist militants don’t accept Indian rule and called for general strikes. There were no immediate reports of any insurgent violence from these areas.
The possibility of an insurgent attack prompted more than 50,000 police and paramilitary soldiers to guard the parade route in the Indian capital.
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 Congress Party in late 1920s and 1930s.