A Republic Day sans the military?

Marching troops, rows of tanks, missiles, ornate tableaux, stunt riders, aerial displays, and formations of horses and camels manoeuvring down Delhi’s expansive Rajpath — every January 26 witnesses a 90-minute flamboyant display of India’s military might and cultural diversity. A perusal of social media will reveal the degree of enthusiasm and admiration citizens have for the armed forces. At places all over the country where I speak about military leadership and its application to other professions, I am extensively asked by people, old and young, about military life, challenges in difficult terrain, our weaponry and equipment, different regiments, arms and services, and what they do. It always ends with a salute by them and a mention about how they feel safe because India’s warriors are ever-ready to protect them.

 A Republic Day sans the military?

Full dress rehearsal for the Republic Day parade. Reuters

The message in perpetuity from the armed forces is the symbolic, “Hum hain na (We are there),” conveying their full acceptance to live by the oath they take: always in readiness to make even the ultimate sacrifice for the safety and security of the Indian people. Remove the armed forces from the Republic Day parade and you will have a public dismayed by the decision. One could even assume it a political risk, I dare say.

India is a peaceful country. It covets no one’s territory but equally wishes to create awareness that none can covet its territory and compromise the principles by which its people have chosen to live. Deterrence and dissuasion are essential components of national security which are achieved through projection of capability. The presence of armed forces is symbolic of India’s military power conveyed with elegance and shorn of brazenness. It is the precision marching achieved through months of training, coordinated martial music, colourful uniforms and regimental accoutrements, and skillfully driven and well-maintained vehicles, which attract huge applause from the heart. The roll-past of T-90 tanks, Agni and BrahMos missiles, the Bofors guns, and the fly-past by the Indian Air Force infuse pride. Young and old associate themselves with all servicemen on display, marveling at their discipline, dedication, skill, passion and hard work.

While military equipment can be displayed through static exhibitions in different towns and cities, in schools and colleges, and other government institutions, there is nothing remotely equivalent to the élan which emerges from men in uniform in control of the weapons and equipment they use in war. Removing the military, and for that matter, the police from the parade, would make the event a socio-cultural one, exemplifying the progress of the nation. No doubt, it would be a noble idea for a peace-loving nation, and with much savings to the state. Those with money on their minds and questioning the allegedly large movement of men and material to Delhi each year may remember that thousands of servicemen move every day as part of duty, as does their equipment. The gains in national pride, public confidence and response, as also projection is not quantifiable, but it goes well beyond anything public finance can buy or achieve.

The parade is about achievement as much it is about comprehensive national power. It cannot be just a display of military might. It is conceived as an event exemplifying India’s uniqueness, its richness of culture and the immense progress it has made. The current combination of the military, cultural display through dances from various regions, departmental tableaux, schoolchildren from different parts of India and the NCC, all included in the march down Rajpath with the looming visage of Raisina Hill and its grandiose buildings in the background and India Gate with Amar Jawan Jyoti in front, have a surreal effect that gives this spectacle a grandeur which India’s public must never be robbed of.

Remove the military and police contingents and you would axe the one element that in a single glimpse symbolises Idia’s greatest strength — unity in diversity. With the National War Memorial under completion nearby, the public experience of witnessing the armed forces on display and then visiting the new institutions to be educated about India’s military heritage would be another unique addition to the experience of the fortunate few who witness the spectacle in person.

The writer is a retired lieutenant general of the Indian Army

Updated Date: Jan 26, 2019 11:53:58 IST