What's in a Republic Day Parade?

The Republic Day marks the day when India's constitution came into force on January 26, 1950 declaring India a democratic Republic.

The grand spectacle of men in crisp uniforms and strict military discipline marching across the Rajpath on the Republic Day inspires patriotic fervour across the nation on January 26.

Military parades are a tradition across the nation and inspire nationalism and in that vein the Republic Day (RD) parade has become an emblem of the Indian national pride. However it also raises a question if such a costly endeavour is necessary. 

The Republic Day marks the day when India's constitution came into force on January 26, 1950 declaring India a democratic Republic. The date is the anniversary of Purna Swaraj Day held on January 26, 1930. 

Dr. Srinath Raghavan noted historian and Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research observed that one thing about republican tradition is that of an armed citizenry. That is the origin of some of these parades. “It is counter intuitive that India which came out of colonial rule and adopted an independent constitution would follow these parades,” he said. 

He said that Republic Day parade is an attempt by the state to project its image on its own citizenry and beyond and in that context despite India having a nationalist movement which claims that we won freedom through non-violence even early India ended up following them. 

However, it is curious to note that there was no RD parade in the British era. It was an invented tradition which we ended up following. “I don’t see any way we end up doing away with it,” Dr. Raghavan said on whether the huge expenditure on the parade is justified. 

Sometimes the parade also serves as a platform to send a message of national unity. For instance after the humiliating defeat in the 1962 war with China, for the RD parade of 1963 Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru had invited the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to the march-past. 

“RSS was invited by the government due to the good work by the swayam sevaks. Our participation was covered newspapers of the day,” Manmohan Vaidya, National Spokesperson of RSS told The Hindu. 

After Indian forces entered Dhaka and liberated Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, in December 1971, 4 Guards unit of the Army which spearheaded the Dhaka operations gave a military guard of honour to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh. 

Rigorous selection 

The selection of personnel is a very rigorous process. The selection process starts in the units 3-4 months before that. The first selection starts in June and the men are trained in regimental centres. Each regiments turn comes once in three years and usually only those in peace locations are involved.

“The units are informed beforehand so they start preparation much earlier. They congregate in Delhi by end November,” said Lt Gen Thomas Mathew (retd) who led a marching contingent twice in 20004 and 2005. He noted that the parade is timed to the last minute and there is thorough coordination with all services. 

When asked about his experiences about the parade Lt Gen Mathew recalling an experience as a young Lieutenant in 1969 when he his battalion was doing regimental guard to then President Zakir Hussain. During the rehearsal for the parade there is a practice of having someone as a dummy President for timing and coordination. “In 1969, I was the dummy. It was a unique experience on the practice run. All timings are marked and fine-tuned,” he recounted. 

In another instance again in 1969 the flag was upside down when unfurled during Beating the Retreat ceremony but fortunately it was a rehearsal, recalled Lt Gen Mathew. Till then the unfurling was done by a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) but after this it was decided that it will henceforth be done by a commissioned officer. 

Huge expense 

Apart from the effort and time invested in rolling out the columns and colourful tableau, there is also a huge financial cost involved. According to reports and Right To Information (RTI) reply from the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) the centre spent Rs. 320 crore on the parade in 2014. In 2001, the expenditure was Rs. 145 crore and kept increasing over time. 

Time to time there are questions on the justification and need to spend so exorbitant amounts on a four hour show. But every time these voices get drowned in the flow of patriotic fervour and nationalism.

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