Whose republic day is it anyway?

by vpundir | January 26th, 2004

I am biased. Based in Delhi, I can’t help but wish that I could avoid the traffic snarls and other associated fringe benefits of the republic day. I just have to wonder whether the “public celebration” of Republic Day is worth the effort, money and inconvenience. After all, the heart of the nation’s capital comes to a standstill for several days flanking the republic day.

Don’t get me wrong. I am not against celebrating republic day. Far from it. I appreciate the fact that 26 January has the place of honor in India’s history.

After Nehru unfurled the tricolor on the banks of Ravi at the stroke of midnight on 31 December 1929 and the declaration of complete independence was passed, Gandhi called for the celebration of an “Independence Day” on January 26 presumably to judge the mood of the nation. The first Independence Day in 1930 was, therefore, but a precursor to the Dandi march. As the independence movement gained momentum, however, 26 January came to symbolize the aspirations of the populace.

So, it posed a peculiar problem when the British panicked, packed their bags and ran away on 15 August 1947, ahead of the scheduled date, which was 26 January 1948. It was decided that though formally India gained independence on the 15th of August, we would continue to celebrate the “original” Independence Day – 26 January. In order to give tradition a semblance of rationale, 26 January was accorded the status of Republic Day.

So, in essence 26 January is our real independence day by proxy, and I’d have to be a thankless, shameless, nihilist not to respect this day. What I despise, though, is the manner of celebration.

Our republic day celebration boils down to a display of the assorted advanced weaponry accumulated by the country and a march past by the various sections of the armed forces. Both are meant to demonstrate the military might of the country. Tableaus purported to highlight our cultural diversity seem to have been added to the rigmarole as an afterthought.

To me, this smacks of an inferiority complex that India Shining can ill afford. Do we really need to shout from the rooftops post-Pokhran II ? When, if ever, will we realize that we have ceased to be a potential world-power, and have started to tread the path of realizing that potential?

The speech-parade routine is a legacy of the cold war years when the socialist states like Russia needed to reassure their masses that they were safe and had the wherewithal to take on anyone in the world, especially the bourgeois capitalist nations. Our friendly socialist nations have fallen, but we refuse to shed the baggage.

International diplomatic relations have changed dramatically during the past 5 decades, and we are closer than ever to America. Even so, we are still nursing the hangover of communism (socialism, to be politically correct).

We continue to celebrate our republic day the same way as a communist nation would. All arrangements are handled by the government. Government offices and organizations are required to “celebrate” it. And the whole ritual is handled in an unenthusiastic, cold, high handed manner that is characteristic of official business in the country of babudom.

Although republic day is ostensibly a “public function”, I wonder what proportion of that public is involved in the celebrations. Come to think of it, are there ANY civil celebrations out there? Does the common man even bother to flick the remote to watch the republic day parade? I don’t have to be R.K.Laxman to sadly conclude that India’s republic day is a “state function”, not a “public celebration”.

Contrast this to how the Americans celebrate their independence day. Private Citizens participate in the floats, bands and music that parade through towns and cities. They enjoy the community pyrotechnics and organize reunions and get-togethers. And they thank the heroes who won them the independence and those who guard it. Can we move towards such a celebration, where citizens rejoice, celebrate, and congratulate each other? That would be my republic day. And yours?

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