India celebrated Republic Day yesterday with a grand military parade in New Delhi held under tight security conditions, two months after the terror attacks on Mumbai.
Police shot and killed two suspected Pakistani militants near the capital on the eve of the national day celebrations, as 20,000 troops were deployed to prevent extremist strikes.
India says Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT), a Pakistan-based militant group, was behind November’s carnage in Mumbai, during which 10 gunmen killed 165 people.
“The concerted and well-planned attacks in Mumbai stand out as an example of a ruthless operation undertaken to damage the confidence of India,” Indian President Pratibha Patil said in an address to the nation.
“Countries must own up to their responsibilities,” she said, without naming arch-rival Pakistan.
Delhi police commissioner Y.S. Dadwal had warned that Islamist militants could try to attack the parade, which emphasizes India’s role as a regional economic and military power, as it passed through the ceremonial heart of New Delhi.
“There are intelligence inputs [of possible strikes by guerrillas],” Dadwal said.
The center of New Delhi was virtually shut down for yesterday’s celebrations, which attracted large crowds, and security was focused on areas close to the parade route such as metro stations and shopping centers.
Dadwal said a “ground-to-air security apparatus” was in place with anti-aircraft guns, snipers and helicopter gunships at the ready to protect the event, which passed off peacefully.
Federal Home Minister P. Chidambaram had ordered all 28 Indian states, including the seven restive northeast provinces and disputed Kashmir, to be on high alert.
On Sunday, police said they had prevented a planned attack on New Delhi by killing two Pakistani militants on the outskirts of the city.
Brij Lal, a senior police officer in Uttar Pradesh state, said an anti-terrorist team chased a car carrying the men towards the capital before they intercepted it in the suburb of Noida.
Police said they found two AK-47 assault rifles and five hand grenades in the car.
Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh missed yesterday’s events after undergoing major heart surgery.
Doctors said the 76-year-old was “doing extremely well” after five bypasses on Saturday to clear blockages in his arteries.
Singh’s role in the Republic Day schedule was filled by Indian Defense Minister A.K. Anthony, while Kazakh President Nursultan Nazarbayev was chief guest.
Bejewelled elephants that have been a highlight of Republic Day festivities for decades were banned from this year’s parade because of fears about their unruly behavior and animal rights concerns.
Among the military hardware on show were locally built T-90 tanks, which made their first appearance in the parade, and a cruise missile system being jointly built by India and Russia.