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Dharna cloud on R-Day parade

New Delhi, Jan. 20: Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s call for a 10-day sit-in demonstration in front of Parliament House in Lutyens’ Delhi’s most protected zone threatens the movement of contingents that have reached the capital for the Republic Day parade scheduled for Sunday.

Although the army’s ceremonial and welfare directorate — that is the nodal agency for the organisation of the parade — has been asked to keep up its preparations “as usual”, senior officials have noted that Kejriwal and his friends have made public statements threatening the parade.

“Some people are saying that I am an anarchist. I am spreading disorder. I accept I am an anarchist. Today, I will create anarchy for Shinde,” Kejriwal himself said this morning. He also said: “What is the point of celebrating Republic Day when women are getting raped in Delhi. If our dharna is hampering preparations, the Centre is responsible.”

The Republic Day parade is the government’s biggest show of military might and is attended by, among others, diplomats from all the missions in the capital. This year, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe is the chief guest.

The army has informed the government that even if most of the contingents camp at the Parade Ground in Delhi Cantonment, in the city’s south-west, there are movements to and from Red Fort in Old Delhi.

Most of the participants in the parade come from outside and are not familiar with Delhi’s layout. The sit-in began today after a rehearsal for the parade was over. The full-dress rehearsal for the parade is scheduled for January 23 (Thursday). As of now, the army is most concerned about keeping participants out of the way of the protesters for the full-dress rehearsal.

Preparations for the rehearsals begin early in the morning (around 3.30am) when truckloads of soldiers and school students from across the country, who have been camping here for the past week, assemble at Vijay Chowk at the foot of Raisina Hill.

The hub of Kejriwal’s protest is north of Rajpath — on which the parade marches down — and not in the way of the route from the Parade Ground to Vijay Chowk. But some of the participants and organisers would be moving to Vijay Chowk from Red Fort and they may willy-nilly venture through the roundabout flanked by Parliament House and Rail Bhavan.

The military has already parked its exhibits — tanks, missiles, rockets and artillery guns — in the lawns of India Gate for the parade. Kejriwal’s call to Delhiites to join him in the protest threatens to bring more people to the hexagon around the monument than the army would like to see.

Rajpath and its environs are practically sealed off for gatherings in the three weeks leading to Republic Day every year. This is also because of a heightened threat perception — of possible attacks by militants — around this time. Kejriwal’s protest has meant that the security forces — the Delhi police and the army, in particular — have more to be attentive to, apart from the threat of militant attacks.