Heralding the Republic Day with busting of sterotypes

Col Satish Singh Lalotra
‘ No one changes the world who isn’t obsessed”.
—-Billie jean King.
A country’s ascendance to its full potential in terms of political say, economic might, military prowess and such like indicators is a slow grind that has a mix of all of its people’s hard work, patience and perseverance backed by years of political sagacity. The governments of the day over the ages act as hyphens amongst all these efforts to put them in an orderly manner failing which all may emit discordant notes that may be jarring and failing to pass muster to put the country where it actually belongs. Fortunately for the last one decade or so the governance at the center has been a guiding light to put and extenuate these efforts of its denizens at its rightful place. The annual parade of the unity of our country that takes place on 26th January from the ‘Kartyva path’ (Rajpath) is a living testimony of our nation towards telescoping all its endeavours highlighting its achievements that are beamed live across the globe for everyone’s applause and consumption. Year after year the various tableaux of states that march past in their full grandeur mirror the dominant theme that has been the mainstay of that very area or region for ages or may be a recent development that it wants to show case to the country and the world at large. Since the advent of 2014, there seems to be a tectonic shift in the manner, scale and underlying tone or tenor of these celebrations that hinges or borders on highlighting the indigenous nature of our country, its people and their endeavours jettisoning the legacy of our colonial past.
The new year of 2024 has a special place of pride in our country’s democratic history since it signifies our 75 years of relentless holding of ‘Standard bearer’ of the largest democracy of the world giving a ray of hope to the humanity at large that still there are countries in this globe who don’t have given into theocracy or autocracy. A national celebration of the kind exhibited on 26th January is a combination of patriotism and pomp, and an observance of the country’s unity in diversity. It is a show of hard power, highlighting India’s military might alongside its cultural heritage and soft power. There is a show of state power, but it is also a festival of people’s power. The parade on the newly named ‘Kartyva path'( erstwhile Rajpath) epitomizes the Indian philosophy of ‘Duty before self’ and rightfully jettisons the word ‘Raj ‘that goes with the colonial past of ruling a nation with utter disregard to the people’s aspirations. An apt indigenization and breaking of stereotypes from its ‘RAJ’ days to that of marching with times. This brings me to the underlying theme of my present write-up which deals with breaking of age old taboos and myths that were once associated with our British colonial masters; and what better way to do and exhibit it than on the 75th/ diamond jubilee from the ‘Road of duty'(Kartyva path).
In the long list of breaking the stereotypes that were once our wont, the present government in the year 2015 made the women (who constitute 50% of our human population) march with their heads held high with their exclusive women contingent. With the then US President Barack Obama as the chief guest it was a befitting spectacle by India to showcase that it had come out eventually from its colonial cum misogynist hangover with women of the country equally partaking in its development programme. A year later in 2016, it was Avani Chaturvedi, Bhawana Kanth, and Mohana Singh who made history as the first women fighter pilots of the Indian air force by getting commissioned in the IAF and subsequently some of them even taking part in the RD Parade in subsequent years standing alongside with the prototype of fighter aircraft in full ensemble of a fighter pilot with their ‘G-Suit’ and helmet etc to a gaping world view being beamed across their millions of drawing rooms. Though the so called indigenization of the RD Parade was a gradual process with the past governments too doing their bidding by way of scrapping the age old practice of using of horse driven buggy by the president of India /supreme commander of armed forces, it was done more so under the newly developed dimension of militancy that had the VVIPs under their radar of threat constantly. But the present pace of breaking of stereotypes under the Modi dispensation has acquired a feverish pitch that finds no equal in the country’s democratic history since 1950 when the constitution of India was promulgated for the first time and the nation came into its very being from the shadows of its British colonial masters.
Pushing the envelope further for change in the way our republic day parade is celebrated as also to align the country’s changing aspirations with its ethos ,two years back the central government took a momentous decision to replace the favourite marching tune ‘Abide with me’ at its ‘Beating the retreat’ ceremony . The solemn ceremony was set pace with the soulful ‘Aye mere watan ke logo’ the patriotic rendition by Kavi Pardeep and famously composed by C.Ramchandran. Sung for the first time by late Lata Mangeshkar ,the ‘Nightingale of India’ in 1963 at the national stadium ,Delhi for fund raising activity for the war widows in the backdrop of Sino-Indian border war this soulful song welled up Nehru for the entire country to watch. The decision was taken to include Indian song by the present dispensation as part of ‘Azadi ka Amrit Mahotsav’ celebrations and rightly so. ‘Beating retreat’ signifies a military tradition dating back to centuries when troops stopped fighting,sheathed their weapons and withdrew from the battlefield eventually returning to their camps to the sound of the bugle. The government of the day in a press note two years back on 23rd January 2022 announced that the ongoing exercise was a well thought out programme to indigenize the mind set as also to shed the colonial bent of mind in tune with the marching of times. As luck would have it a day prior to the above action, the ruling was preceded by the momentous decision to shift the eternal flame at ‘Amar Jawan joyti’ to the newly constructed ‘National war museum’ thus completing the government’s intent of doing its bid.
Cut to the present times, the French president Emmanuel Macron has been invited to attend India’s republic day celebrations on 26th January 2024. This is, notably the 6th time a French leader will be the chief guest at the RD Parade here in the national capital. Last year, Egyptian president Abdel Fattah el-Sisi was the chief guest. This year’s RD Parade will feature 2 all -women contingent consisting of 144 personnel marching. One contingent consisting of 144 personnel will comprise all women soldiers with 60 from the army and the remainder from the air force and Navy. The theme for RD Parade this year is ‘India-mother of democracy’ and ‘Viksit Bharat (developed India). The Modi government is famous for not adhering to any set piece regulation when it comes to shedding the colonial past, since in the year gone by it shifted from the age old parliament house officially known as ‘Samvidhan sadan’ that was the seat of ‘Imperial legislative council of India’ between 18th January 1927 and 15th August 1947, the constituent assembly of India between 15th august 1947 and 26th January 1950 and the parliament of India between 26th January 1950 and 18th September 2023. The new parliament building was opened on 19th September with ground breaking done on 01st October 2023 thus completing the entire process of infusion of Indian spirit in the very sinews of its democratic functioning and thinking. Another very important facet of the present ruling dispensation is to take the governance out from the confines of New Delhi and sport major events like the ‘Army day’ at places like Bangalore and Lucknow thus injecting a sense of all-inclusiveness in the body politic of the country. Same with the case of ‘Def-Expo’ that had Pragati maidan’as its permanent address changed to Ahmedabad, Bangalore to name a few.
National day like the one celebrated on 26th January every year is the projection of India’s might and right in all its splendor being watched live over their TVs all over the world with rap attention. A perfect platform to instill a sense of belonging and pride in everything India stood for thousands of years and even today. I am sure the plethora of measures that the Modi government has taken has proved that he is a man obsessed. As rightly said by Billie Jean king — ‘No one changes the world who isn’t obsessed’..
(The writer is a retired army officer)