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Republic in retrospect: Abide with the Constitution

A. J. Philip A. J. Philip
31 Jan 2022
Indian Gate and the Republic Day

The first time I travelled from Kayamkulam in Alapuzha district in Kerala to New Delhi, I took a KSRTC bus to reach Ernakulam and catch the Jayanti Janata Express from there. It had a lending library from which Malayalam and other books could be borrowed. 

The train had a restaurant where the passengers could sit, order meals, hot or cold beverages and snacks like dal vada and banana fry, fresh from the frying pan. I had a curious sight on the way. 

There was a fairly large hoarding on the roadside at Ambalapuzha advertising the services of the Delhi-based Panicker’s Travels. I wondered why they wasted money on the advertisement when the company did not have any service in Kerala.

It was when I reached Delhi that I realised that Panicker’s Travels was started by an entrepreneur from Ambalapuzha, which is famous for a temple and a sweet dish Ambalapuzha payasam (kheer) prepared there. It is considered the ultimate sweet dish because it is believed that the recipe for it originated in heaven.

At any feast, after Ambalapuzha payasam is served, no other item would be served because it is considered the ultimate dish. I have great respect for the late ERC Panicker who helped thousands of Malayalees to see places like Agra, Jaipur, Mathura, Rishikesh and Badrinath. Panicker’s Travels is now looked after by his son Babu Panicker. 

In 2019, a few days before Prime Minister Narendra Modi inaugurated the National War Memorial, about 500 metres from the India Gate, he and other travel agency owners were invited for a conducted tour of the memorial. They were told that in future all Republic Day ceremonies would be shifted to the War Memorial.

I was, therefore, not surprised when on January 25, newspapers carried a report that the eternal flame in front of the India Gate would be shifted to the War Memorial which already had a similar flame. Some defence personnel were drafted to symbolically “merge” the flame from the India Gate into the War Memorial flame.

Thereafter, the flame at the India Gate was extinguished forever. The ceremony marked the end of a landmark in New Delhi. The Amar Jawan Jyoti was lighted to pay eternal tribute to the inextinguishable spirit of the jawans which saw its apogee in the 1971 war when Bangladesh was liberated.

Yet, the government did not think it necessary to take the people into confidence when the flame was extinguished five decades after it was lit. Even if the government wanted to shift the flame to the War Memorial, it should have organised a better function, involving no less than the chiefs of all the three forces — the Army, the Air Force and the Navy. In no case should it have been left to lower-rank officers!

To cover up its devious plan, the government has used laser technology to erect a virtual statue of Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose under the canopy behind the India Gate. Work is already on to build a granite statue of Bose which will be installed on the pedestal where King George’s statue once stood and which is now dumped in the coronation park in the Capital. 

The coronation park, which was once the venue of the Delhi Durbar of 1877 when Queen Victoria was proclaimed the Empress of India, is now a graveyard of colonial-era statues. One reason why the India Gate remains the quintessential spot of national pilgrimage is because it was erected in memory of the Indian soldiers who sacrificed their lives in the First World War.

Built by the great architect Edwin Lutyens and commissioned in 1931, the monument has the names of all the Indian soldiers who died in the war etched on its walls. Small wonder that millions of Indians visit the India Gate every year and are humbled by the sacrifices their forefathers made for the country.

Whatever one may say about the British, the architectural style they adopted for their grand buildings were Indian in origin. Look at the Rashtrapati Bhavan, which was once known as the Viceroy’s House. The residential building, one of the best in the world that includes the White House in Washington DC, is modelled after a Buddhist Vihara.

The British knew in their heart of hearts that India is essentially Buddhist in character. Modi’s idea of building a War Memorial was to shift the importance from the India Gate to his own creation. He has succeeded to some extent as, hereafter, all official Republic Day-related ceremonies will be held there. It is a different matter that a few months after the inauguration of the War Memorial, I saw few people there when we as a family visited it.

As everyone knows, Modi has been taking extra care of completing the Central Vista project as per schedule. He wants to commission it before the next elections. The project includes a new Parliament building and a residence for the Prime Minister. Nobody knows what will happen to the old Parliament building.

Of course, the government has said that it would be retained as a museum, though there is not much clarity on this. Anyway, one thing has happened recently. The statue of Mahatma Gandhi which was visible from the Raisina roundabout was displaced from there. It is now located at another place within the Parliament complex.

There was once a proposal to shift Mahatma Gandhi’s statue to where Netaji Bose’s virtual statue is now placed. The apologists of the government say that the India Gate was built by the British and it was, therefore, not acceptable. In that case, the whole Republic Day Parade is a creation of the Congress led by Jawaharlal Nehru.

There are now 195 countries in the world, including the smallest Vatican. Out of them, only a few countries like China, North Korea, Russia, Pakistan and Cuba have parades like the Republic Day parade. France also has such a tradition. Essentially, it is a Communist idea. The erstwhile Soviet Union and China used their national days to showcase their military might.

Nehru had his socialist leanings and that is why he adopted the Soviet model of a military parade when the idea of celebrating the Republic Day was thought of. For a nation which freed itself from 200 years of colonial rule, such a celebration made sense at that time.

Today, 75 years after Independence, what is so great about organising the parade? Enormous sums of money are wasted on the arrangements made. If the parade has any military utility, it should be organised in military cantonments. What is the fun in seeing a dozen people riding on a single motorcycle using ladders? It is against the transport rules followed in the country. 

It is an item that needs to be enjoyed in a circus which, alas, is a dying art in the country. When Doordarshan used 55 cameras to shoot the inauguration of the Kashi Vishwanath corridor Project by the Prime Minister, leaving nothing to chance, what is the purpose of showing a replica of it in a moving tableaux?

The point is that the whole Republic Day Parade has become out of date. In the initial years of the Republic, people from far-off places would descend on New Delhi to watch the parade. Now, fewer and fewer people attend the parade because they can see it on television in a much better way without the attendant risks. Readers, how many of you watched the parade?

Patriotism is different from nationalism and it needs encouragement. We saw on the eve of the Republic Day, young men who wanted to be employees of the Indian Railways burning stationary railway wagons. What kind of patriotism is this?

A person becomes a patriot when he is proud of the nation in which he was born and in which he lives. When he is assured of justice and fair play, he will do everything to protect the interests of the nation. And even sacrifice himself or herself for it. That is how tens of millions of people took part in the freedom struggle.

They wanted freedom from the foreign yoke. They visualised the day when everyone would be treated equally and nobody would be discriminated against on grounds of caste, community, language gender and wealth. Today, we hear exhortations to kill people and we see attempts to throttle freedom.

The people cannot have a sense of security when the Prime Minister himself asks them to forget their fundamental rights and remember only their fundamental duties. 

Patriotism cannot be instilled by erecting giant flags. The Aam Aadmi Party government in Delhi, which has run short of ideas after sending senior citizens on pilgrimages to Ayodhya and other places at government cost, has hit upon the idea of erecting 75 giant flags to commemorate the 75th Independence Day.

The government has now plans to erect 500 such flags in the city. It has earmarked Rs 100 crore for the flags. Chief Minister Arvind Kejriwal advertised the flag project in full page advertisements that would have cost the government a tidy sum.

Does such extravaganza make any difference to the nation? The ruling party has been projecting Gujarat as a model state. People have begun to believe that it is the most modern state in the country when on several indices of growth it is far behind states like Himachal Pradesh, Tamil Nadu, not to mention Kerala.

However, it is to “vibrant” Gujarat that Modi takes his guests like former American President Donald Trump and Chinese leader Xi Jinping to impress them about India’s growth. A recent report from Canada about a Gujarati family having been frozen to death while trying to enter America illegally has given a lie to such claims. Many families from Gujarat have immigrated to the US in such a risky manner. As a wag says, Gujarat is the best place to fly away from!

On Republic Day, my six-year-old grandson had a question, “Pappa, what is Republic?” I told him that in a Republic, the power vests with the people. To elaborate the concept I told him that the President is the top official in the country. He is elected by the people. I also told him that one day he can also aspire to be the President.

After I said this, I wondered how that would be possible as efforts are being made to make the nation a theocratic state. If it becomes a Hindu nation, many of the posts would be reserved for Hindus as is the case in Pakistan and some Arab countries.

India is supposed to be a secular country. Where is secularism now? The Prime Minister of the country does not find anything amiss about laying the foundation of a temple at the spot where a mosque stood at one time. He will be spending thousands of crores of rupees on the Chardham Mahamarg Vikas Pariyojna. 

The project, which costs around Rs 12,000 crore, seeks to develop approximately 889 km of road in the Himalayan region. It will focus on the widening of the existing roads in the region, along with ensuring adequate and sufficient slope protection. He is not bothered about the ecological damage it would cause.

In Modi’s grand scheme of things, there are irritants like the hymn “Abide with Me” with which the Beating the Retreat programme ended every year. The song, said to be the favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, was dropped last year, from the Beating the Retreat Repertoire but it was included at the last minute to salvage public opinion.

This year, it was dropped like a hot brick and there was little protest from the general public. Everybody saw the President and the Prime Minister saying farewell to a black horse that belonged to the cavalry regiment attached to the Rashtrapati Bhavan. It took part in 13 Republic Day parades. She has retired from service.

What will happen to the horse now? Who will look after it in old age? I do not want to answer the question here. Is the fate of the Republic any different from that of the black horse, who served the nation with elan? And will the nation abide with the Constitution?


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