Could someone have left the doors of Noah’s ark open by accident, letting loose a menagerie of animals to wander around Delhi’s streets? Could we be near the filming of a new version of Apocalypse Now judging from the ominous whirring of helicopter blades overhead? These salubrious thoughts go through our minds as each Republic Day nears. We might be willing to put up with all the traffic snarls as camels gallop past and all roads being blocked as the floats rehearse, if we could be part of D-day. But Republic Day today is about anything but the people who are meant to celebrate it. Yes, there is every need to showcase the might of the Indian state. But year after year, it is done in a sort of Stalinist display of strength, the tanks rolling down Raisina Hill as bored VIPs claps indifferently. The people who make up the Republic are so constrained by the massive security that they can do little but watch from a safe distance away. And honestly, it does little to add to the glory of the Republic to see tiny little children waiting for hours in the cold to perform for the assorted gathering.
We certainly need to celebrate the idea of India, the fact that despite all the problems it has faced, its rambunctious democracy has pulled through. We have to be proud of how India has pulled itself up by its bootstraps to become one of the fastest growing economies in the world. But we don’t need to do this through this sterile, forbidding display in which ordinary people cannot be a part. Republic Day should be an occasion to educate our younger generation of the wonder that is India. It should be interesting enough to make them want to know more. It should include them at its very heart, not make it an event where only the latter-day ‘rulers’ can take part. The very format of the parade is archaic. Of course, there should be security but surely, it should not be such that it becomes a dull and non-inclusive ‘celebration’ if you can call it that. In the old days, it was actually possible for people to rub shoulders with those whom they elected to office. Now, any such attempt would be fraught with grave danger.
At a time when corruption, political instability and price rise are worrying people, the best antidote would have been to put the fun back into Republic Day. For that one day, which now means little more than a holiday to many, people should actually feel that they are part of some grander scheme, are connected to their fellow citizens and leaders in a more integral way. Maybe the government could ask the people in whose name it exists how best to celebrate this day. We wish you a safe and joyous Republic Day and hope that the next one will be more participatory and fun-filled for everyone.