With the customary release of balloons, the 67th Republic Day parade was over. Most faces sported a smile, not all though.
Sometime last year, with the experience of the previous parade behind them, the powers that be argued for a presentation that was cogent and, more importantly, concise. For the planners, the Ceremonial Division of the Ministry of Defence (MoD), the message was clear – the duration of the parade had to be minimised.
On December 12, 2015, an Under Secretary of the Ministry of Home Affairs (MHA) wrote to his counterpart in the MoD. Titled ‘Composition of Parade’, the single page note consisted names of all the MHA contingents which would participate. Those not included were the Indo Tibetan Border Police (ITBP), which secures our frontiers with China, Sashatra Seema Bal (SSB), which does the same along Nepal and Bhutan and the most visible armed police force, Central Industrial Security Force (CISF), which guards utilities like metro, airports, ports etc. Arguments were put forward that some would be accommodated in the ‘Beating The Retreat’ ceremony and it would all be the same.
Did it turn out this way?
Depicting the anguish, on January 27, former Director General of the Border Security Force (BSF) Prakash Singh tweeted, “Republic Day Parade had space for Army dogs, but contingents of Central Forces like ITBP, CISF and SSB, were kept out”. A Whatsapp message the author received from a CISF officer went like this: We wear khakhi thus aren’t as privileged as the army dogs who will be allowed on Rajpath.
Before the parade and after the closure of the celebrations, chat platforms have been awash with the ”ugliness of armed forces being made to sit out”. Multiple voices spoke about the need to have ”somehow managed without making forces get out”. Some suggested that marching down the Rajpath in their ceremonial splendour was but a rare opportunity to leave their impression on the nation’s psyche. “We can’t expect the public to come and see us at remote border outposts,” explained an officer. The combined anger was directed at the Prime Minister, his party as well as functionaries of the Home and Defence ministries. Even the ‘big brother’, the army wasn’t spared. What only a few know is that the army too had to reduce its imprint. From readying ten formations for the parade, it eventually had to turn away two of them, at the last minute.
Under pressure, with barely a week before the parade, a reassessment was done. But only the Border Security Force’s Camel Contingent was asked to join.
Interestingly, the cultural end of the parade has had no such issues.
MoD’s data shows that from a total of 19 tableaux and four groups of school children performing in 2013, the number has consistently risen. Last year, a total of 25 tableaux and six groups of children performed. This year, 23 tableaux and six groups of children were accorded the opportunity.
Having done all of this, the planners did meet the goal and managed to make the parade shorter by a good 21 minutes.
Some, however, are still asking if it was worth the heartburn.