NEW DELHI – (Agencies) – India was on high alert Thursday for its Republic Day celebrations that are targeted each year by Muslim, communist and ethnic rebels, as New Delhi hosted Saudi Arabia’s king at the main military parade.
Thousands of police, paramilitary and army soldiers were deployed to prevent attacks, amid calls for a boycott of the celebrations from insurgent groups that do not accept Indian sovereignty, Islamic militants in Kashmir, ethnic militant groups in the remote northeast and communist guerrillas in several states in the east and south.
Some 50 communist militants overnight blew up railroad tracks passing through a culvert in the insurgency-affected Gaya district of the eastern Bihar state. Train services in the area were temporarily held up, railroad officials said.
Suspected rebels also exchanged gunfire with police in at least three villages, Press Trust of India reported. No one was injured in the track bombing or the gunfights.
Indian president A.P.J.Abdul Kalam took the salute at the main parade in New Delhi, flanked by Saudi Arabia’s King Abdullah behind a bulletproof screen. Thousands of others watched the parade, seated at the venue and lining the route through the city.
The parade displayed Brahmos supersonic cruise missiles, two versions of the nuclear-capable Agni missile, Prithvi surface-to-surface missiles, tanks, artillery guns and other sophisticated military hardware, a defense ministry statement said. Fighter aircraft prepared to conduct aerial maneuvers.
Security was tight in New Delhi. Helicopters hovered above important building and public places, sharpshooters and commando squads were deployed across the city and barricades were erected on all main roads leading to the city center where armed police conducted random checks of cars.
In the northern Jammu-Kashmir state, police said two major explosions were averted when explosives were discovered hidden overnight near local parade venues, PTI news agency reported.
In Punch town, a remote controlled bomb was found by the road leading up to the school where the state’s education minister was to take the salute; antitank mines, bomb detonators hand grenades and ammunitions were found in a neighborhood in the Rajouri area, it said.
Republic Day marks the adoption of India’s constitution in 1950, three years after British rule left the Indian subcontinent after two centuries of colonial rule. The reign ended in the partition of the subcontinent and the creation of the new Islamic state of Pakistan.
The position of chief guest at the parade is an honor India reserves for its close allies, and the king’s presence underscores the growing political ties between two countries that spent nearly a half-century on opposite sides of the Cold War divide.
For Saudi Arabia, King Abdullah’s visit to India, the first by a Saudi monarch in 51 years, offers his country a chance to foster ties with an emerging power.