26 January always evokes many memories of waking up at the crack of dawn in the chill of the Delhi winter, bundling up in our warmest clothes, packing sandwiches and hot coffee, and setting out to see the republic day parade. This was one of the highlights of the year during the time my family lived in Delhi.
The parade itself was a magnificent spectacle with the many components that made it so special. The perfectly synchronized marching of the many contingents of the armed forces, the display of the new developments in different fields from technology to trade, and the exuberance of the participating school children and cultural troupes; the vibrant “floats” as we called them, and finally the breathtaking ‘fly past’. Every part of the long march of the passing groups made us swell with pride that we were also a part of this ‘unity in diversity’ that is India.
It is only this year that I stopped to wonder about what went behind this parade.
The Indian Constituent Assembly adopted the Constitution of the newly independent India on November 26, 1949. This came into effect one year later, on January 26, 1950. Hence this day marks Republic Day. On 26 January 1950, the newly-sworn in President of India rode through the roads of Delhi to reach what was then called Irwin Amphitheatre (now the Dhyan Chand National Stadium) to take the salute of the first ever national parade where 3000 officers of the armed forces and more than 100 aircraft participated. The parade was led by then Brigadier Moti Sagar of the Gorkha Regiment. From 1950 to 1954, the celebrations took place in different parts of Delhi including the Red Fort and Ramleela Maidan. The format of the current parade was adopted in 1955, and Rajpath (then called Kingsway, and now Kartavya Path) was chosen as the permanent venue.
Since the first parade when the Indonesian President Dr. Sukarno was the chief guest, it has been a tradition to invite the head of state of a country to be the chief guest for the event every year.
Every step of the parade is meticulously planned and coordinated so that there is perfect accuracy in the movement without the slightest hitch or delay. While the participants in the parade seem to move in perfect precision and coordination, this is the end result of months of rigorous training.
All the participants from the different participating groups across the country are notified in July of the preceding year. The practice begins right then at the respective centres and goes on till August. The participating groups reach Delhi in December where the intensive training commences which culminates in the ‘dress rehearsal’ a few days before the big day. While the practice march covers a distance of 12 km, the actual march on 26 January covers a distance of 9 km. On 26 January the participants reach there designated places on Rajpath at 3 a.m. for the ultimate Great March. By then they would each have put in over 600 hours of training!
All army personnel that take part in the parade go through four levels of investigation. All of the defence vehicles and equipment are housed in a dedicated camp near India Gate.
After the regimented procession of foot marchers the parade takes on a smoother and slower pace as the tableaux roll (at 5 km an hour) along the wide avenue of Rajpath. As children it was these ‘floats’ as we called them that provided animated lessons in the geography, history and culture of our country. At the time all we looked for was the sign that indicated what state the tableau represented, and then sat back and took in the diverse “scenes” as it were from that state, complete with live people doing activities on the moving tableaux.
It is only recently that I discovered that behind the creative presentations lies a long and bureaucratic process. The process is spearheaded by the Ministry of Defence. States are invited to submit proposals for a tableau that represents some historical event, culture, heritage, development programmes, and environment of that state. The tableaux proposals received from various states, Union territories, central ministries, and central departments are evaluated in a series of meetings by a panel of experts comprising of eminent persons from various disciplines such as art, culture, painting, sculpture, music, architecture, choreography, etc. The expert committee examines the proposals on the basis of theme, concept, design and its visual impact before making its recommendations
The selection process of the tableaux passes through various stages of development and evaluation. It begins with an initial appreciation of sketch/design and the themes of the demonstration. It culminates, after many interactions between the expert committee and the states/UTs/departments/ministries, with a three-dimensional model of the tableau. For the selected tableaux, the Ministry of Defence provides, free of charge, one tractor and one trailer upon which the tableau can be fabricated. There are also a series of other guidelines regarding the use of logos, animation, electronic displays, music and much more that need to be adhered to. And finally, the tableaux that ‘float by’ to mark the tail end of the awe-inspiring parade!
In recent years there have been a lot of controversies and contention with respect to the selection/rejection of tableau proposals from different states. Sad indeed, for an occasion that started as a celebration of the diversity that made our republic so unique and rich.
I certainly prefer to hold on to my youthful memories of the spectacular spectacle that made me proud to be a citizen of this republic. I celebrate the warp and weft of diversity that weaves the rich tapestry of this vast and varied country.