Glamorized Republic Day Parade!
The thirty-five year old coach, specially renovated for the state drive, bearing the new emblem of Asoka’s capital and drawn by six sturdy Australian horses carried the President and drove out of Government House at a slow trot, escorted by the President’s bodyguard. All along the route the President was welcomed by shouts of “Jai”. Thousands of people had assembled and had occupied the streets, roofs, tree tops and all available vantage points along the route right from Government House to the Irwin Stadium. The President responded to the greetings of the people with folded hands.
At Irwin Stadium where three thousand Officers and men of the three Armed Services of India and the Police with massed bands had taken positions for the Ceremonial Parade. Here 15,000 people watched one of the most magnificent military parades in India’s recent history. Standing in an Army jeep and accompanied, Brig. J.S. Dhillon, the President inspected the Parade and went round the main stands, later taking the Salute at the march past. Consisting of the units of the Navy, Infantry and Cavalry Regiments, Services Contingents, the Air Force, a Boys’ units of the Punjab Regiment and the Police, the Parade combined color with precision, which the appreciative crowd acknowledge with repeated cheers. Seven massed bands, representing the Navy, the Army, the Air Force and the Police, provided music, the quality of which fitted with the general excellent pattern of the entire ceremony.
The simple and yet grand ceremony of the Durbar Hall, the excitement of hundreds of thousands of people lining the five-mile route through which the President drove in state and the spectacularly colorful parade at Irwin Stadium, where the President hoisted the Union Flag and took the salute, will remain in my memory for ever.
Today, India celebrates 60 years of its Republic Day with the annual military and cultural parade held in the Indian Capital of New Delhi on 26 January, the Republic Day of India. Before the parade starts, Mr. Manmohan Singh, the Prime Minister of India, will lay a wreath at the Amar Jawan Jyoti at India Gate, commemorating all the soldiers who sacrificed their lives for the country. The President, then arrives at the saluting base in his motorcade, escorted by his bodyguards. The President is accompanied by a notable foreign Head of State – who is the Chief Guest at the celebration. The chief guest of 2010 will be President of Republic of Korea Lee Myung bak. Mrs. Pratibha Patil, President of India, who is also the Commander in Chief of the Indian Armed Forces, will take the salute. A 21 gun salute is presented, the President unfurls the National Flag and the National Anthem is played. This marks the beginning of the parade. Various divisions of the Armed Forces then salute the President of India. Floats showcasing the cultures of the various states and regions of India are part of the grand parade, which is broadcast nationwide on television (Doordarshan) and radio. Also part of the parade are children who win the National Bravery Award for the year. The parade ends with a flypast by Indian Air Force jets. The procession starts by moving down from the Rashtrapati Bhavan through Rajpath, past the India Gate and on to Connaught Place, the heart of the city, to enter the historic Red Fort.
Three days later, on the evening of January 29, a stirring ceremony known as ‘Beating Retreat’, is held. It is performed by the bands of the three wings of the military, the Indian Army, Indian Navy and Indian Air Force. The venue is Raisina Hills and an adjacent square, flanked by the north and south block of the Parliament. The Chief Guest of the function is the President of India who arrives escorted by the ‘President’s Body Guards’(PBG), a cavalry unit. The ancient military custom of sending drummers through the streets just before sunset to warn the troops to return to their barracks before the flag is hauled down for the night, has been revived in a unique way. Twenty or more bands, from the three services, perform. The plaintive notes of the old hymn, ‘Abide with me’ is played. The bands fall silent and a solitary bugler takes up the hymn’s refrain. The final notes fade away-marking the end of the Republic Day celebrations.
The big difference between the inaugural ceremony in 1950 and now is the sad sight of tight security arrangements all over the site and the city. Delhi will be under hawk-eye vigil in the run up to the Republic Day celebrations with thousands of policemen fanning out across the city and a massive ground-to-air security apparatus being put in place. Mobile hit teams, anti-aircraft guns and sharpshooters of the National Security Guards will be deployed at various places while paramilitary and Delhi Police commandos will keep a close watch along the route of the Republic Day parade. Snipers will be deployed at high-rise buildings while a total of 105 CCTVs will keep tight vigil on people’s movement between Rajpath and Red Fort, the route of the parade which showcases India’s military might and cultural diversity. A multi-layer security ring will be put in place at Rajpath, where President Pratibha Patil will unfurl the tricolor and take the salute of marching contingents. A special emphasis is being laid on anti-sabotage checks, access control measures and intelligence coordination. The entire route of the parade will be covered by special security and anti-terror arrangements. Elaborate air defense measures, including deployment of anti-aircraft guns, have also been taken to check possible intrusion of air space. Besides, helicopters of the Indian Air Force will hover over the areas around Rajpath and all along the route of the parade. Other security measures like patrolling of crowded markets, checking and frisking in metro, railway stations and bus terminals have been tightened. Security at the IGI airport is also strengthened in coordination with the CISF. Checking and frisking have also been intensified at all entry points to the city with police setting up barricades to keep a vigil on all those entering the capital.
In this day and age, with all the security tension and economic melt down, do we need an annual Republic Day parade of this magnitude to flex our military muscles? A pertinent question posed and debated by India's think tank of the day. Even the charm of the parade as a source of inspiration and pride in the early years of our Republic has given way to horror stories of barriers, security checks, frisking and myriad safety precautions. An embarrassing number of seats in the stands now go empty, as invitees are daunted by the stringent security regulations. Besides, the familiar formula of the parade is getting stale - an endless procession of regiments, bands, cavalry, antiquated artillery tanks and modern missiles, interspersed with schoolchildren and tableaux. Even the cost of the whole operation is mind boggling. A substantial proportion of the armed forces budget is diverted from November 1 onwards towards preparing for the mammoth exercise. Beginning January, the Delhi Police is focused on the parade and not the city’s law and order. On D Day, 196 companies of the Delhi Police and 55 companies of central paramilitary forces, consisting of some 35,000 policemen, are on duty. As well as some 800 commandos. Disbanding the parade totally may seem too unpatriotic to even think of. But perhaps one can think of cutting down on the endless marching columns and add some innovative touches. Maybe for reviving our flagging interest even include Bollywood in a big way to participate and present a glamorized Republic Day Parade.