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Mainstream, VOL LVIII No 6, New Delhi, January 25, 2020 - Republic Day Special

Re-orienting the Republic Day

Monday 27 January 2020

by Bhartendu Kumar Singh

When the first Republic Day was celebrated in 1950, people just poured out here, there, and everywhere on the Delhi roads to catch a glimpse of their first President as he drove from the majestic Rashtrapati Bhavan towards the then Irwin (now National) Stadium, venue of India’s first Republic Day parade. However, as years have passed by, there is an artificial distance between the Republic and its people, best evident in the contemporary Republic Day celebrations.

To begin with, today’s Republic Day is more and more about militarised display of pomp and show. The informal atmospherics, visible in the early fifties, is no more there. Instead, the military dominates the celebrations at Rajpath in its entirety. Even in States, the police forces dominate the show. The military overbearing gives an unnecessary militaristic outlook to a hitherto ‘democratic’ polity. Even the commen-tary at the Rajpath seems to come like a war kind narration. In addition, it denies legitimate space to other aspects of society and polity that need to be equally celebrated. Given the fact that we are living a post-war period where the frequency of wars have actually come down, the rationale of overt display of military prowess is debatable. Unlike other republics like the US, India earned its republican status primarily through non-violent methodology and the political philosophy of Gandhi and other freedom stalwarts. The Republic has flourished due to political communication of our leadership eager to promote democracy as a way of life. And yet, the Republic Day celebrations portrays India like a ‘Garrison state’ where everything is treated like a war and military becomes everything.

There has also been a visible decline in Republican values in our polity. The enthusiasm, vigour and energy that characterised the Republic Day celebrations amongst our forefathers seems to be fizzling out. There could be many reasons for that. First, our forefathers fought for the freedom; therefore, they valued and cherished the idea of ‘Republic’. Subsequent generations has taken it for a ride and treated it like an endowment since we were born into it! We perhaps do not attach same intrinsic value that our forefathers attached to it. Second, our children do not get to learn and imbibe the Republican values through peer experience. The prabhat pheris, which used to be the key aspect of Republic Day celebrations in schools and elsewhere are gone long back! Instead, we have a metropolitan culture where schools are kept closed on Republic Day. Delhi is one such place. Pray, where should the children go if they want to celebrate the Republic Day? Third, there is near absence of Republican values in institutions of higher learning. Universities and colleges that are supposed to be citadels of value system and character building are quite ignorant of their pivotal role. Either they are closed on the Republic Day or the student participation is nearly absent.

There is also a widening gap between the state and the citizen about participation in the Republic Day. The state is getting more and more protective due to security considerations and sometimes rightfully so. The Republic Day celebrations in Delhi and other state capitals are, thus, reduced to a spectacle for a microscopic minority who brave all the odds. Many of these are compulsive participants who are there in ‘official’ positions. The average citizen who want to be there on a volitional basis find too many security jackets to filter through. At the end of the day, it is an enduring test for many. Many of these citizens, therefore, resort to digital celebrations of Republic Day since the comforts of the drawing room far outweigh the discomforts outside.

There is also a sizeable section of people who are subjected to ‘passive citizenry’ out of compulsion. For example, when the grand march past goes on at the Rajpath, there would be thousands of small children who would be out begging on Delhi roads to make a living that day. An even more number of people would again fail to manage two meals a day. Countless others would suffer the pangs of malnutrition like previous days. Republic Day or its associated aura is irrelevant and incontexual for them and as hopeless like any other day. Seven decades of Republic and lofty ideals in the Constitution notwithstanding, these hapless citizens can’t figure out the meaning of Republic or for that matter the festivities associated with the Republic Day. Are we not suppose to feed these hungry mouths before we splurge money on avoidable pomp and show? Are we going to say at some stage that austerity would be the hallmark of state functions till a just society is established!

If the goal is to consolidate and strengthen participatory democracy and imbibe the values of ‘civic republicanism’ amongst the citizens, we need to reconsider the ways we celebrate the Republic Day. We need to move away from a militarist state of mind towards an emanci-patory platform where we celebrate all aspects of the Republic and practice Republican values vertically and horizontally. Unless we do it, we will continue to live in a ‘Republic for few’ where many would not be able to associate with the Republic Day or the Republic Day parade.

The author is in the Indian Defence Accounts Service. The views expressed here are his personal.

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