New Delhi: It’s been 60 years since India proclaimed itself a Republic. A simple military parade on a cold January morning in 1950 has evolved into the gala event of today.
But apart from a few minor changes — like the Prime Minister visiting Amar Jawan Jyoti, which started after the 1971 Bangadesh war — the format has essentially remained the same — one borrowed from the United Kingdom. The celebrations on paper may be aimed at the public, but beyond the traffic restrictions on January 26, there is little about this day the common man relates to or comes out to celebrate.
Compare that with USA, which, besides other events, has a celebrated annual hot dog eating competition on Independence Day or Australia, where Sydney-Hobart yatch race on Australia Day — also observed on January 26 — has assumed cult status, or even France’s Gay Ball on Bastille Day. The inherent difference in the tenor of the celebration is obvious. For starters, post Delhi High Court’s pathbreaking verdict decriminalizing homosexuality, would it not be in keeping with the spirit of the Republic to have some
representation of the gay community in the parade?
Jasdev Singh — the voice of the parade since 1962 — feels showcasing military might and cultural diversity is essential but too drastic a change in the format is not exactly possible. Though, he does talk about the times when hordes of people from the villages descended on the capital for a glimpse of the parade.
‘‘That has changed a lot with the coming in of television. But purists would still swear by the majestic view of the parade coming down Rajpath. The format cannot change — the President will come, the commander of the Delhi area will command — but it could be made more creative and more attractive,’’ Singh says. He concedes that security considerations have robbed the parade of much of its charm. ‘‘In those days, I would reach Rajpath at 4.45am and there would be just a handful of policemen relaxedly munching mungphali (peanuts). Now, you won’t even spot a mungphaliwallah anywhere near Rajpath,’’ he laughs.
Witnessing the parade in the early days used to be quite an event of a lifetime. L D Madaan, a government officer, recalls how as a 10-year-old in 1960, he spent the entire night waiting in the India Gate lawns. The night was chilling but the morning was unbearable, Madaan recalls. ‘‘I had to relieve myself and the policemen would just not allow me to go. It was terrible. I vowed never to come to Delhi again,’’ he says about the city where he eventually spent most of his working life. That zeal is obviously missing though, as Singh spells out, for most young parents in Delhi, the parade is something they would usually take their child at least once to as a growing up ritual.
Spontaneous public participation, though, is not what theatre person M K Raina feels is lacking these days, as he talks about the kite-flying that is organized near Rajghat immediately after the parade. But he agrees that the parade itself could do with some redesigning.
‘‘It was only once in 1971 when the troops were away in Bangladesh that it was made a cultural event at Vijay Chowk with founding head of NSD, Ebrahim Alkazi, as one of the main people. But military might does not have to be the theme every time. We all know the camels, the elephants and the jhankis come and then the aircraft come and more or less every year it is a celebration of the defence ministry rather than the entire country. There should be a different theme every year to keep the interest alive among the masses,’’ Raina says.
Danseuse Shovana Narayan disagrees. In fact, in an interesting parallel, she compares the format of the Republic Day parade to the human body. ‘‘Would you want it to change? Would you want the nose to be somewhere else? It is very nice the way the military might of the country, its cultural diversity and the various other things that go into the making of our nation are weaved into the parade in its present format,’’ she says. And after all these years, the interest in the parade has not ebbed in most sections of society. ‘‘People around me still ask for passes for the parade. Isn’t that indication enough about the enthusiasm generated by it?’’ she asks.