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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
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.”
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.
“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.
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.
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.