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Delhi’s Republic Day tableaux: A story of rejection and acceptance

For more than four decades, the design and concept of Delhi’s floats were not city specific and the inspiration was drawn from contemporary social issues and Centre’s social welfare policies. Over the last 25 years, the Capital has showcased its tableaux only 11 times.

delhi Updated: Jan 26, 2017 14:00 IST
Parvez Sultan and Sweta Goswami
Parvez Sultan and Sweta Goswami
Hindustan Times, New Delhi
Republic Day,tableaux,Ramlila Maidan
The Delhi tableau in 2011. (Arvind Yadav /HT File Photo)

In 1995, Delhi’s tableau failed to make the cut to the Republic Day parade for the third time in a row after the Ministry of Defence (MoD) rejected the national Capital’s proposal.

The Bharatiya Janata Party-ruled state government had wanted to depict Delhi ruler Prithviraj Chauhan’s march against central Asian invader Mohammad Ghori in the 12th century. Riding a horse, the Rajput king was to lead a contingent of soldiers. They were to be shown applying tilak on each other’s forehead. Aarti was planned with a fort in the background.

The then chief minister, Madan Lal Khurana, was furious and made his sentiments public at the news of the rejection. Agitated over the Delhi tableau missing yet again on Rajpath, Baikunth Lal Sharma ‘Prem’, then member of Parliament from east Delhi, staged a protest on January 27. He led a procession from Ramlila Maidan to Red Fort with a float depicting the same theme.

“I was upset. They (Ministry of Defence) had allowed jhankis of other states but rejected Delhi’s proposal,” Sharma said.

States have to go through a strict scrutiny before the MoD’s Tableau Selection Committee (TSC) gives them a go-ahead to present their tableaux at the parade in Delhi.

Over the last 25 years, the Capital has showcased its tableaux only 11 times.

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A former senior government official, on the condition of anonymity, said the rejections came on several grounds. Sometimes the Centre didn’t want states to promote their governance model so the application was dismissed. And sometimes, bad aesthetics marred the chances.

Chandni Chowk as symbol of national integration with Lal Quila with Guari Shankar Mandir, Gurudwara Sis Ganj, Fatehpuri Masjid, and Central Baptist Church in 1999. (HT Archive)

“The year 1995 was no exception. The committee comprises eminent scholars, artists, and experts from various fields to decide on the subject proposed by a state. Delhi’s idea was sent to the committee after getting a nod of the chief minister. Sometimes, the idea is turned down,” said MS Sehrawat, media adviser, New Delhi Municipal Council, who was posted as deputy director in the Directorate of Press and Information in Delhi for over 15 years.

He was involved in conceptualising Delhi tableaux during the tenure of chief ministers Madan Lal Khurana, Sahib Singh Verma, Sushma Swaraj, and Sheila Dikshit.

In 1992, the committee disapproved the theme of the float based on the trial of Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar. When media highlighted the issue, it caught the nation’s attention. It was only after the intervention of then Prime Minister, PV Narasimha Rao, that Delhi got an approval on January 17.

“We had only nine days. But we worked round-the-clock and managed to prepare a tableaux just in time,” said Sehrawat.

Delhi’s tableau was introduced for the first time during the third Republic Day celebration in 1952. The city was a centrally administered ‘C’ category state then. The theme was centered on tales of Maratha warrior Chhatrapati Shivaji.

Homage to Kargil martyrs. (HC Tiwari/HT File Photo)

Design and concept

For more than four decades, the design and concept of Delhi’s floats were not city specific and the inspiration was drawn from contemporary social issues and Centre’s social welfare policies.

It was themed on agriculture in 1965 as the Indira Gandhi-led government had decided to promote agrarian issues in a big way. In 1966, the message was ‘Education for all’, while it was adult education in 1978, and better life through prohibition in 1979.

However, in the early 1990s, there was a visible change in the trend. After the reconstitution of the Delhi legislative assembly in 1993, the subject of tableau models revolved around the city’s composite culture — ganga-jamuni tehzeeb, fairs, festivals, heritage, and its growth in diverse sectors including infrastructure, education, and transportation, which the citizen of Delhi could relate to.

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A Kolkata-based artist Bappa Chakraborty, who prepared Delhi’s tableaux on several occasions between 1999 and 2008, said, “The idea was to promote Delhi as a city for all. Relevant issues were selected after discussions among the authorities.”

A model of the Delhi Metro along with CNG and replica of Feroz Shah Kotla ruins displaying the government’s stress on improvement of public transport system in 2006. (Ajay Aggarwal/HT Photo)

While Chandni Chowk was depicted as a symbol of national integration in 1999, Kargil war and Sufi poet and scholar Amir Khusro were the topics in 2000 and 2004, respectively.

National capital’s lifeline – Delhi Metro – was portrayed twice in 2003 and 2006. A year after the restoration of his haveli in Ballimaran, renowned 19th century poet Mirza Ghalib featured on the city’s tableau in 2001 during the Congress rule. The plan to showcase Ghalib’s legacy was earlier turned down by Khurana.

Delhi received an award for the best tableau in 2011 when it carried the message of ‘cultural and religious harmony’ with the Lotus Temple in the forefront and representations city’s four major religious communities.

Fast forward to 2017

On Thursday, Delhi’s tableau will make a comeback after three years. Set up as a model government school, the tableau will portray the transformation in state-run schools and the recent initiatives of the Aam Aadmi Party government in the field of education.

For the 1,100-odd sculptors, carpenters, painters, technicians and designers at the Rashtriya Rangshala Camp, where floats from the 17 selected states and six Central government agencies are being given final touches, the next few hours are a mix of immense pressure and nervousness.

‘Stree Shakti’, which showcased the efforts being made to empower the women by the Delhi government. It was one of the pet projects of the chief minister Sheila Dikshit. (HT File Photo)

“One weak link in the sculpture and it can knock off the trailer. Since the float would be in motion, we will have to be extra careful about all of the structures sticking together tight,” said Bibhuti Adhikary, the man who has conceptualised and designed Delhi’s tableau this year and also the last three times it was rolled out.

The Capital’s float this year has been made at a cost of Rs 25 lakh, whereas the cost of some other tableaux ran up to Rs 1 crore, Adhikary said.

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Mihir Vaidya, who first came down from his village in South 24 Parganas in West Bengal 22 years ago, to lend a hand to making the floats for the Republic Day, has since then sculpted at least 36 floats.

“Earlier, the floats that would sit atop the tractor itself used to be around 2.5 quintal and that on the trailer used to be around a tonne or more. It was very heavy. Now we mostly use fibre because of which its weight has become quite less making it more manageable,” Vaidya said. For the rest of the year, he is employed with an interior designing store where he makes vase, tables, paintings, show pieces etc.

The theme was ‘The cultural hub of the country’ in 2013. Twirling dervishes, a house sparrow, a rock band, a gigantic Kathak dancer in white salwar-kameez and sparkling pink dupatta were used to show the multi-cultural tradition of Delhi. (Sonu Mehta/HT Photo)

Samir, who makes idols at a workshop in Assam’s Doom Dooma, reached Delhi on December 15. “It takes time to make these things. We began our work on December 20. The money we get is decent. It’s around Rs 8,000, some even get Rs 16,000 though per float. Nowadays, good electricians are also needed as sculptures in motion are an in thing,” he said.

It takes about 30-40 people and a month-and-a-half to build one tableau. The designing bit before work actually begins, starts at least five months in advance.

Fate of tableaux

It is the fate of these floats after the Republic Day that pains artistes the most – all the tableaux are dismantled and sold as scrap.

“So many people give their heart and soul to making the tableau. But no facility has been made to keep them or at least the best ones intact. Respective state houses keep them for a few days or months and later sell it off in bits to whoever wants to take it,” Adhikary said.

Despite the neglect the tableaux face after the D-day, the numerous artists who come from across the country to build these mega moving showpieces, it’s a lifetime opportunity they never want to miss.

Missiles, tanks and contingents that have featured at Republic Day celebrations over the years in the national capital
1 LIGHT COMBAT AIRCRAFT The LCA Tejas will take part in the fly past at the parade. The Indian Air Force has already raised its first LCA squadron and plans to deploy 123 such single-engine locally built fighters.
2 T-90 TANKS A regular feature at the parade, India has a fleet of around 900 T-90s tanks and plans to expand it to 1,600-plus in the next three years.
3 AKASH MISSILES The medium range surface to air missile is one of 15 weapon systems India has identified for exports.
4 BRAHMOS MISSILE The BrahMos missile provides India the capability to hit targets 290km away at nearly three times the speed of sound. It’s the world’s fastest supersonic cruise missile.
UAE MARCHING CONTINENT A marching contingent from UAE will lead the parade. This will be the second time that foreign troops will march down Rajpath. French troops took part in last year’s parade.
Odisha, Arunachal Pradesh, Maharashtra, Manipur, Gujrat, Lakshwadeep, Karnataka, Delhi, etc

6 Central ministries
CBSE, Customs, National Housing Board, CSIR, Skill development & CPWD

Mounted columns: 61 cavalry of 51 horses
7 mechanised columns: 3 Tank T-90, Three BMPII/IIK, 2 BRAHMOS, One WLR Swathi, One CBRN Recce Veh (New), 2 Tpt Satl Terminal (TST) DCN, 2 AKASH, 1 DHANUSH Gun System
6 marching contingents: Mechanised infantry, Bihar, 39 GTC, 58 GTC, Madras Engr GP (Meg), Territorial Army
Navy: Naval Brass Band, Navy marching contingent, Navy tableau
Air Force: Air Force Marching Contingent, Air Force band, vehicular column
Chief guest: Crown prince Mohammed Bin Zayed Al Nahyan, UAE
1992: Trial of last Mughal emperor Bahadur Shah Zafar at Lal Quila before he was sent to Rangoon.
1996: The float was designed on a theme of Education for All.
1999: Chandni Chowk as symbol of national integration.
2000: Homage to Kargil martyrs.
2001: Renovated haveli of Mirza Ghalib in Ballimaran inaugurated in 2000.
2002: Phool Walon ki Sair, a symbol of communal harmony.
2003: Delhi Metro operations.
2004: 13th century poet Amir Khusro.
2008: Stree Shakti, which showcased the efforts being made to empower the women by the Delhi govt.
2011: Themed on cultural and religious harmony.
2013: Showcased Delhi as ‘The cultural hub of the country’. Twirling dervishes, a house sparrow, a gigantic Kathak dancer in white salwarkameez were used to show the multi-cultural tradition of Delhi.

First Published: Jan 26, 2017 07:18 IST