Republic Day Parade: Tanks and artillery are passe, 26 Jan celebrations require renewed focus on power of people
Even a good thing can be dulled by repetition and need not necessarily stay in step with the times
When we were children, we would bundle up in warm clothes on a cold winter morning in New Delhi and huddle excitedly in the armed forces families’ block to witness the Republic Day parade. It was an awesome experience the first few times. Then, one year in my late teens, I decided to watch it on television. For reasons I never quite investigated, I never went again in person. Today, I'll definitely be sipping hot tea in front of the screen to watch the arrival of President Ram Nath Kovind with his bodyguards riding on horseback. To me, it is the most compelling display of pomp and ceremony in the world. It is a great ten minutes visually and a testament to precision. I just love this part.
This will be followed by rubbernecking from my drawing room chair at all the other VIP arrivals and their interaction: who met whom warmly, who was cold, who was snubbed, interpreting signals and body language like only journalists do. That little interlude ends with the playing of the National Anthem which brings a wet lump to the throat, one of pride and patriotism.
But then my attention will begin to waver and the treacly and soporific superlatives of the commentators and their trite and clichéd script will make me engage in multi-tasking till the Pilani girls come by or the garba is performed or the massed bands play Sare Jahan se Achha, which never fails to make my eyes tear up. Most of the rest I will give a miss, watching in blips and blops, but no longer concentrating until the flypast and the president’s departure and once again curiously tracking the emotional overtones of each of the departures.
So when the editor of Firstpost asked me to justify the parade eliminating the armed forces and the arsenals and armaments, I told him it would be impossible, like a chicken pie without any chicken in it. The military part is the best part. This is, most certainly, the most high-profile annual celebration of the armed forces and showcases our military might.
Try and make a case for it, he said. Assume it is a school debate and you have to be against the motion, meaning drop the public show of strength, no need for the military dimension. After all, except for North Korea and Russia and China, most other nations have dropped the muscle flexing of the firepower. At the outset, to even begin supporting such an outlandish recommendation, one would have to list the present weaknesses in the status quo. The parade has not changed dramatically in 70 years and there is a certain predictable monotony to the way it unfolds.
The sense of déjà vu is very powerful and manifests itself for most of the three hours. Perhaps it needs to be tweaked to a shorter, more hi-tech laser, drone-interactive format with a very important missing ingredient. Fun.
The parade is stodgy. It is not fun and today’s younger generation is not reflected as the stimulating, imaginative, creative incredible entity that it is. A drone display like we did for the hockey World Cup, lasers piercing the sky and writing our destiny in a night parade with pyrotechnic finales and racing cars and choppers landing on Rajpath and performing a simulated medevac, our floats, those of our sportsmen and women, those who have been accomplished in the preceding year in the arts and sciences, a celebration with a touch of the carnival in our spread of cultural diversity.
No one has ever thought of it, but even a good thing can be dulled by repetition and need not necessarily stay in step with the times. Give the armed forces a combined day of their own by harnessing the power of our media platforms, showing those in uniform in all their guts and glory in the run-up on scores of websites and TV channels. Money well spent. Have the Indian Air Force put on a far more widely publicised display of air power at the Tilpat range, where the public is enthralled by the exploits. Let the Indian Navy conduct exercises at sea, show us how it protects its carriers, life in a submarine. Let the Indian Army simulate a surgical strike, put on a show that beats all shows and still sends via a message to the world who and what we are in military terms.
Even the paramilitary forces from the BSF to Border Roads to Railway Protection Force can establish their credentials with the public in a more meaningful way than just marching past. The more I think about it, the more I believe the transition to the 21st Century and the reinvention of the parade has merit. You might say it ain’t broke so why fix it? Fair enough. But if it is not gripping and has got mired in predictability, simply lugging tanks and artillery on the highway has become passé, give it movement and action. The Beating the Retreat could well be the core of the military aspect and extended in its scope to encompass all that is good about the forces. Purely martial music, a three-day focus on the men and women in uniform, right across the board.
Then 26 January can be a peoples' affair, purely civilian in nature, joyous and noisy and yes, colourful and fun (yes, fun) and cheerful and studded with celebrities because it is a celebration. Of our festivals, our song and dance, our faiths, our cinema and theatre, our sports heroes, our youth. To witness that I would certainly stop multi-tasking.
The author is a well-known journalist and commentator
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