NEW DELHI: India celebrated its Republic Day Wednesday under heavy security, with tensions running high in held Kashmir over efforts by Hindu nationalists to hold a rally in the troubled region’s state capital.
Security was especially tight in New Delhi where large sections of the capital were sealed off for the annual parade of military hardware that provides the centrepiece for the nationwide celebrations.
Around 35,000 police personnel, including 15,000 members of the paramilitary forces and elite National Security Guard, were deployed across New Delhi for the event, which is always considered a possible target of militant attack.
Indonesian President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono was the guest of honour.
Snipers manned rooftops along the route of the parade, while helicopters and unmanned surveillance drones monitored the area from above.
In Muslim-majority Kashmir, a strict curfew was enforced in the summer capital, Srinagar.
The streets were completely deserted apart from the large numbers of security personnel who manned barbed-wire barricades across roads leading to main downtown area of Lal Chowk.
“No procession or gathering would be allowed in any part of the city, today,” Srinagar’s district magistrate Meraj Kakroo said.
Authorities also jammed local mobile phone networks.
The Kashmir Valley is usually tense on Republic Day, but particularly so this year because of a drive by India’s main opposition, the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), to march to Srinagar and hold a special rally to raise the national flag in Lal Chowk.
Authorities had blocked road links between Kashmir and neighbouring states on Tuesday as thousands of BJP activists gathered on the state border, shouting nationalist slogans and waving the Indian flag.
Several senior BJP leaders were arrested after refusing to turn back, amid appeals by the Kashmir government and the federal government in New Delhi to call off the “provocative” march.
Kashmir has been riven by religious and separatist conflict for the last 20 years.
The BJP favours a hardline approach in the region, refusing any dilution of national sovereignty or relaxation of tough military laws that have been condemned by human rights groups.
Government ministers had warned that the BJP rally could trigger fresh protests in the Kashmir Valley, where at least 100 protesters were killed in massive anti-India demonstrations last year.