What's in a Republic Day Parade?

Men in crisp uniforms marching across Rajpath following strict military discipline is an awe-inspiring sight on Republic Day.

Military parades are a tradition that inspire patriotism across nations and, in that vein, the Republic Day parade has become an emblem of India's national pride.

The Republic Day commemmorates India's constitution coming into force on January 26, 1950, declaring India a democratic republic. The date is the anniversary of Purna Swaraj Day held on January 26, 1930. 

Dr. Srinath Raghavan, noted historian and Senior Fellow at the Centre for Policy Research, observed that a highlight of the republican tradition was an armed citizenry. That is the origin of some of these parades. “It is counter intuitive that India which came out of colonial rule and adopted an independent constitution would follow these parades.” Despite India having a nationalist movement which claimed that we won freedom through non-violence, even early-India ended up following the pattern, he said. 

However, “I don’t see any way we end up doing away with it,” Dr. Raghavan added. 

Sometimes the parade also serves as a platform to send a message of national unity. For instance, after the humiliating defeat in the 1962 war with China, for the RD parade of 1963 Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru invited the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) to the march-past. 

“RSS was invited by the government due to the good work by the swayam sevaks. Our participation was covered in newspapers of the day,” Manmohan Vaidya, National Spokesperson of RSS, told  The Hindu

After Indian forces entered Dhaka and liberated Bangladesh, then East Pakistan, in December 1971, 4 Guards unit of the Army which spearheaded the Dhaka operations gave a military guard of honour to Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, the founding father of Bangladesh. 

Rigorous selection 

For the military, it is one of the high points of the year. The selection of personnel is a very rigorous process. The first selection starts in June and the men are trained at the regimental centres. Each regiment's turn comes once in three years and usually only those in peace locations are involved.

“The units are informed beforehand so they start preparation much earlier. They congregate in Delhi by end November,” said Lt Gen Thomas Mathew (retd) who led a marching contingent twice in 20004 and 2005. He noted that the parade is timed to the last minute and there is thorough coordination with all services. 

Lt Gen Mathew recalled an experience as a young Lieutenant in 1969 when his battalion was regimental guard to the then President Zakir Hussain. During the rehearsal for the parade there is a practice of having someone as a dummy President for timing and coordination. “In 1969, I was the dummy. It was a unique experience on the practice run. All timings are marked and fine-tuned,” he recounted. 

In another instance, again in 1969, the flag was upside down when unfurled during a rehearsal for the Beating the Retreat ceremony. Till then the unfurling was done by a Non-Commissioned Officer (NCO) but after that it was decided that it will henceforth be done by a commissioned officer. 

Huge expense 

Apart from the effort and time invested in rolling out the columns and colourful tableau, there is also a huge financial cost involved. According to reports and Right To Information (RTI) reply from the Central Public Works Department (CPWD) the Centre spent Rs. 320 crore on the parade in 2014. In 2001, the expenditure was Rs. 145 crore. 

Time to time there are questions on the justification and need to spend such exorbitant amounts on a four-hour show. But every time these voices get drowned in the patriotic fervour.

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Printable version | Sep 18, 2021 7:35:29 AM |

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