India marked its Republic Day yesterday with a parade of military hardware in the capital, New Delhi, as Indian President Pranab Mukherjee warned the country’s politicians against underestimating public anger over corruption.
Thousands of spectators turned out for the annual military and cultural parade along New Delhi’s Rajpath Boulevard, along with political leaders and chief guest Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.
Abe’s designation as guest of at the parade underscored the importance India attaches to ties with Japan as New Delhi traditionally invites leaders of countries with which it is seeking closer relations.
Security was tight in the capital yesterday, with police and troops sealing off large parts of the city for the 65th Republic Day, which is a national holiday to mark the day the Indian constitution came into force.
On the eve of Republic Day, traditionally celebrated with shows of patriotic fervor, Mukherjee warned politicians against corruption and false electoral promises ahead of general elections due by May.
“Corruption is a cancer that erodes democracy, and weakens the foundations of our state,” Mukherjee said in an annual address aired live on national television.
“If Indians are enraged, it is because they are witnessing corruption and waste of national resources. If governments do not remove these flaws, voters will remove governments,” he said on Saturday night.
Before his nomination as president in 2012, Mukherjee was a senior minister in the ruling Indian National Congress Party-led coalition that has been rocked by a series of corruption scandals that has eroded voter support.
Mukherjee also took what was seen as a swipe at India’s new political star, New Delhi Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal, who declared himself an anarchist this month as he protested for police reform.
Kejriwal, a former anti-corruption campaigner who took office less than a month ago, has faced savage criticism for the two-day sit-in protest that saw police baton-charge his supporters.
“Equally dangerous is the rise of hypocrisy in public life. Those who seek the trust of voters must promise only what is possible. Government isn’t a charity shop,” Mukherjee said. “Populist anarchy can’t be a substitute for governance. False promises lead to disillusionment, which gives birth to rage and that rage has one legitimate target: those in power.”
The celebrations came a day after India and Japan affirmed plans to “further strengthen” defense cooperation against the backdrop of an increasingly assertive China.
The agreement was reached on Saturday at a meeting in New Delhi between Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and Abe, who arrived for a visit earlier in the day.
“The relations between Japan and India have the greatest potential of any bilateral relationship anywhere in the world,” Abe said after the annual summit.
The two leaders “reaffirmed their determination to further strengthen bilateral defence cooperation,” a joint statement said.
Singh and Abe also “renewed their resolution” to conduct joint maritime exercises on a “regular basis with increased frequency.”
Coming against the backdrop of a bitter territorial row between Japan and China over islands in the East China Sea, analysts have said Abe’s three-day India trip will be keenly watched by Beijing.
India also has a border row with China that flared into a brief, bloody war in 1962 and like Tokyo, has been cultivating ties with its neighbors to offset China’s growing might.