India’s Republic Day celebrations: Time for a change

Another Republic Day has come and gone. India’s 62nd, to be precise. This one has been no different from its previous ones, at least the ones I have been observing for the last 25 years or so. For example,

  • The run-up to the Republic Day saw the print and electronic media competing with each other in reporting the achievements of the country.
  • There were interviews with key armed forces personnel, academicians, ministers, investors, NRIs, and other stakeholders for a “holistic” view of India.
  • There were interviews with the kin of freedom fighters (there aren’t any freedom fighters left now, I guess) in the media. A couple of interviews with retired armed forces personnel were also thrown in for a little variety.
  • The President’s speech (yawnnn…) was boring as usual and had nothing inspiring in it.
  • The Republic Day parade was beamed live on Doordarshan, the national television.

I think that even for those who did not watch the parade (either in New Delhi or the live telecast), like me, could imagine what it would have been like. This is because the parade has been following a set pattern year after year and does not deviate from it for even an inch.

So I knew that there would be an impressive display of India’s military might through its arms and ammunition, various regiments and divisions of the armed forces, the BSF camels, the CRPF, the Coast Guard, etc. Then there would be tableaux from the states and union territories of India, as well as performances by school children and folk dancers.

The evening news on TV and the Republic Day coverage on various news websites confirmed that my visualisation of India’s 62nd Republic Day celebrations was spot on. Some images from this year’s Republic Day parade at New Delhi are presented below (all images are courtesy of www.rediff.com).

Brahmos Missile Launcher

Republic Day March Past
Tableau from Maharashtra
Motorcycle riders

When this Republic Day tradition began decades ago, it made sense to have the parade to instill national pride in a diverse population that had come together for the first time after decades of colonial rule. The parade of our armed forces served to reassure us that we could defend ourselves.

But 62 years on, the same parade somehow does not seem right. The military component of the parade seems to get bigger and bigger (and to me scarier and scarier). In India’s defence, one can arguably say that it is surrounded by hostile neighbours on all sides — China, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. But does it justify this show of military might? Seeing the parade makes me wonder if we are a military republic or a democratic republic.

As for the tableaux from different states, they are so clichéd that one knows what each state’s tableau will be like. For instance, Kerala’s will have the mandatory Kathakali dancer, Maharashtra’s will have lavani dancers, Bihar’s will have the Buddha somewhere, Orissa’s will have the Puri temple somewhere on the float…

But that is exactly what our Republic Day celebrations have become—cliched, ritualised, without any reflection or clarity, and routine. And we are the first ones to protest vociferously if India is portrayed like this in the international media. The Republic Day has become a day of peace time propaganda. It is time we change our Republic Day (and for that matter our Independence Day) celebrations to reflect the what we are today. The celebrations need to come out of the quicksand of only speeches and parades that they are now, and move forward to actually being a celebration of the people of the India, rather than of the government in power.

What do you think? Do you think that the way Republic Day is celebrated is fine or do you think that it could be celebrated differently?

3 thoughts on “India’s Republic Day celebrations: Time for a change

  1. Something I have always thought myself…Republic Day as well as Independence Days are today just meant for showcasing the achievements of the days’ Government in power. In fact, every channel has the same set of programmes – it is like they have a video file footage stored in a drawer labelled “Independence Day Video footage” and “Republic Day Video footage”.

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  2. I like your description of a “video file footage”. You know, the celebrations over the years have merged so much that you cannot say definitely that this was the 2003 parade or the 1997 parade or the 2009 parade.

    Thanks for stopping by and commenting.

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  3. For the people living in Delhi it is additional hazard. The barricades, the traffic movements, VIP and VVIP security, and the loss of greenery across Rajpath (although temporary) to the seating arrangement, wasteful expenditure not considered, makes me wary of the whole exercise.

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