What goes into the grand spectacle that is the Republic Day celebration? A lot, and that is an understatement if you take into consideration nine months of preparation, the scale of logistics and detailing that takes care of every second of the 120-minute parade. Behind the grand show of synchronisation there’s choreography of high order.
The task of organising a grand parade on 26 January was first taken up by General Kodandera Madappa Cariappa, first Indian chief of the country's army, a year before India became a republic. Since then the preparation and planning of the parade is being overseen by South Block, headquarters of the Ministry of Defence. A deputy secretary is designated as the overall in-charge of the show. Here, work begins almost nine months before the event, according to an officer privy to the preparation details.
On the direction of the ministry, the Army headquarters tasks the Headquarters, Delhi area, with the execution of the parade under the supervision and command of the adjutant general – a military chief administrative officer. The preparation starts somewhere in March-April. In the month of April, the contingents which are likely to participate in the parade are identified and their units are informed. The troopers are called sometime between July and August. They undergo a training of good three-four months at their respective centres.
Following completion of their preparation, they are sent to Delhi in the first week of December. Here, a structured plan waits for them. They are made to undergo over 600 hours of rigorous practice. The task of the in-charge of Army Delhi area’s administration is to get those who have practiced together and get them ready for the parade. The makeshift camps set up in Delhi Cantonment for the preparations of the grand celebration not only house nearly 10,000 men of the Indian Army’s regiments who travel to the National Capital from across the country to make the event happen but also becomes a full-fledged work station that start functioning from December every year. Several organisations, including state governments, security agencies, municipal corporations, electricity distribution companies and even schools, work in tandem and tirelessly to make the event a success.
In Delhi, practice starts from December. Every day by 3 am, contingents from the Air Force, the Navy, Central police forces, the Delhi Police and volunteers of the NCC among others join the soldiers from the Army at Rajpath for the first practice. But none of them can simply walk into the arena. Every shortlisted individual who reaches the capital must pass through at least four check points where the Army and the police scrutinise everything all over again, including caps, gloves, ID cards and, of course, weapons which in no circumstance can carry a live cartridge.
While troops leave for Rajpath from their home base inside the cantonment and Rajpath for practice, the team at the Integrated Mech Camp at Delhi Cantonment simply does not have it easy. The camp houses tanks, armoured personnel carriers, missile regiments, radars and jeeps. For this year’s celebration as many as 120 vehicles have been pulled in from various parts of the country since September last year. These are too heavy and too precious to move around. It is done with a lot of care.
After getting the brief not to exceed the speed limit 10 km per hour and maintain a uniform separation of 50 metres between two vehicles, the almost 3 km long convoy of 76 vehicles with 140 personnel on board makes it way out. The elements of this convoy are so significant that one of mistake would have huge ramifications.
From here on, mathematics which takes over. Almost everything is about numbers, starting from the beginning of the march to its duration to the number of beats and so on. The President arrives at the dais in a buggy drawn by ponies at 10 am. After he takes salute of his guards, the National Anthem begins, accompanied by the unfurling of National Flag and firing of 21 cannon salutes all at once and within 52 seconds.
Such is the extent of detailing that the planning is not in term of minutes but in seconds. At five check points established at Rajpath, those marching get their feedback: too fast or too slow. Everything is done to ensure that the main dignitaries see the uniform march of every contingent for a duration of 1.13 minutes. Forty-two contingents of 144 soldiers (12 in each row and column) each march down Rajpath every year. This time, one contingent of Army’s dog squad and troops of French armed forces will join the parade.
With the help of radio mobile and Army communications set up by the signal core, a special team keeps an eye on each contingent’s actions. The marching of each contingent is synchronised with their respective band's beats.
Now, what about those who have to drive their fully covered vehicles where the driver has very little visibility and have to move at a speed of 5 km per hour? Those driving tractors carrying tableau get selected after an intense review. Through a square hole, the driver has to maintain a visual contact with his guide, a jawan who marches in sync with the rest for the entire length of the parade.
By the time the practice nears completion, a thick set of papers with detailed noting of the flaws of every contingent is prepared – from hands not springing enough, knees not getting lifted high, medals falling off uniforms to speed not being maintained. The message is clear: be perfect in parameters. Following the first practice, the best among the best is selected.
Nearly 200 men of the Indian Army camp day and night inside the India Gate complex to ready the Army vehicles for the parade. All vehicles have to pass through 10 checks and several layers of paints before being rolled out at the Rajpath. If things go wrong, the camp comes up with immediate corrective measures.
In a bid to reduce duration of the parade from 120 minutes to 90 minutes, the defence ministry has had to say no to many participants, including armed forces like the CISF, the ITBP and SSB as well as several schools. Even the Army had to reduce its strength by sending back trained contingents. They say the parades of the future will be even shorter.