Friday, January 26, 2007

Republic Day - A "Celebration"

As we celebrate the 57th anniversary of the formation of the Indian Republic, I cannot help but think that the tradition of exhibiting India's military might on Republic Day has gotten old. When the tradition first started we had just become independent and we were weak and certainly undeveloped. At such a time to project strength through a display of military prowess perhaps made sense, just in case someone else got the same idea the Brits had. The USSR, equally perceived as weak and impoverished after the Second World War, had used the massive displays in the Red Square to show the world that they were a Superpower and we could do the same thing.

Now, 50-odd years later, we are ready to sit down at the main table, and have been for a while. We are one of the world's top 5 economies with the world's second highest GDP growth rate. We are a solid democracy and have been for 99.97% of our history as an independent nation. We are at the forefront of the latest technological revolution and the 21st century is being talked about, around the globe, as the Indian century just as the 20th was the American century. When we talk, the world listens. We don’t need a show of our military power for the world to take us seriously.

Given these facts, that we continue traditions that are part Soviet-style demonstrations of our military machine and part Colonial hangover of the Queen's (King's) birthday honors list (all those Padma awards) are anachronistic at best and indicative of our continuing insecurity at worst. I mean, if the military parade on Republic Day is meant for a foreign audience, then a) they are more focused on our economic prowess and b) those who would do us harm presumably have some estimate of our military power (if they don't, then it makes even less sense to display it in public!).

If, on the other hand, the parade is primarily for domestic consumption, then shouldn't the cultural aspects of the parade – the folk dances, the floats, the school bands - be given more prominence? It is, at the end of the day, a celebration of the Republic and shouldn’t celebrations be, I don't know - fun?! What is more celebratory – row upon row of grim faced soldiers and the latest missile technology marching past or the dancing and color and the general cheerfulness that accompanies the latter half of the Republic Day parade in Delhi?

Not that I have anything against military parades per se. If the same military parade that is held on January 26 is held instead on December 16, it would not only be contextual, but also topical. Why December 16, you ask? Because that, almost forgotten, day is Vijay Diwas – the anniversary of the surrender of the Pakistan Army in 1971 and the creation of Bangladesh (incidentally, the largest surrender of any armed force, ever). Should not the military showcase its strength and give its gallantry awards on the day of India’s greatest military victory as a free nation?

After all, the Republic or its independence was not won by force of arms, was it? In fact, we pride ourselves for having won our independence by doing the exact opposite, i.e. by eschewing a force of arms - perhaps the only colony in the history of the world to do so! Why then isn't the peaceful overthrow of the (then) world's greatest colonial power and the cohesive existence, as a nation, of the world's most ethnically and linguistically diverse polity the primary focus of all our national day (Independence Day and Republic Day) celebrations?

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