Aditya Sinha: French reign on my parade

Here’s looking at more imaginative guests of honour for the R-Day parade than French President Francois Hollande

Tomorrow, citizens in the national capital will be confined to their homes to ensure the safety and security of that annual Soviet-era relic, the Republic Day parade, as it rolls through Lutyens Delhi. The Metro — the best thing about living in Delhi — will be curtailed, and the parade route will enjoy seven rings of protection, traffic be damned. Perhaps it is good punishment for Delhiites. Let them suffer the convoy of phallic symbols (this year, the BrahMos missile) and floats displaying traditional culture from otherwise forgotten corners of our nation. All that’s missing are Orwellian slogans such as ‘War is Peace’ and ‘Ignorance is Strength’, but we anyway hear that all the time on the Internet from vile NRIs who laughably still think Dear Leader will be India’s rainmaker.

French President Francois Hollande and PM Narendra Modi at the Rock Garden in Chandigarh yesterday. Hollande will be the fifth French leader to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade. Pic/AFP
French President Francois Hollande and PM Narendra Modi at the Rock Garden in Chandigarh yesterday. Hollande will be the fifth French leader to be the chief guest at the Republic Day parade. Pic/AFP

It is cruelty, however, to Indians whose inner life comprises something more than mindless chest-thumping and fetishistic flag-waving, a cruelty we have to live with. After all, Dear Leader is exactly the kind who enjoys pomp. Then why not hold it elsewhere, like the Thar Desert, where the Jaish-e-Mohammad or ISIS or King Kong won’t bother with sabotage?

Then you wouldn’t get a chief guest for the parade like French President Francois Hollande. His invitation was announced two months ago, just days after the terror attacks on Paris, though the invite had apparently been in the works earlier, because we not only want the Rafale jet fighters but also sensitive technology for nuclear-armed submarines. Because of these strategic, political and economic considerations, France’s head of state is now the most invited R-Day guest in Indian history.

It doesn’t have to be that way. Perhaps India should look at different types of guests for the parade. Thinking out of the box ought to come naturally to the BJP: it was the previous NDA government that broke with hoary tradition to nominate a nuclear weapons technocrat as President of India in 2002. APJ Abdul Kalam proved to be a popular president, far more than the current incumbent — a politician’s politician, nominated because creativity and imagination are Sonia Gandhi’s sworn enemies.

For instance, we could have invited Pakistan Army’s General Raheel Sharif to Delhi for Republic Day. I know, I know: there would be temptation to needle him throughout the parade, saying “Tere paas yeh hai? Nahin hai? Aur yeh? Yeh bhi nahin?” etc, etc. But inviting the General would be a coup (no pun intended) in the way that stopping over in Lahore on Christmas Day for Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif’s birthday was. It would help move our bilateral relationship forward. Additionally, no terrorist would dare attack their army chief.

Another alternative guest could have been Donald Trump, though true, we already hosted an American last year. Also, The Donald would likely have declined, given his first presidential primary is less than a week after Republic Day. Incidentally, he was in India in 2014, at a real estate event in Mumbai, swatting away softball questions lobbed by former baseball enthusiast Lara Dutta. At that time, he was just a short-fingered, property-dealing vulgarian; now he’s a short-fingered, presidential-hopeful vulgarian. Oh, the fun Dear Leader would have had if Trump had come and insulted the Pakistanis, the Chinese and Arvind Kejriwal.

Dalai Lama would make a great Republic Day chief guest (even though he resides in India).

Our South Block mandarins would argue it to be too great a provocation to the Chinese, but really, what could the Chinese do? War is not an option as it might have been half a century ago; the Chinese have shown less than zero interest in settling our border dispute, so it isn’t as if we’d put that in jeopardy; and the Chinese are desperate to sell us their manufacture, particularly as their economy is in a tailspin. His Holiness would look at our missiles and dancers and remark, Yoda-like, “Sarvam Dukham”.

Personally, I would invite Mike Brown, the Caltech astronomer who, in 2006, downgraded Pluto from being a planet, and who has now posited a ‘Planet 9’ in our solar system. This Planet 9 would be so far away that it would take 20,000 years to go around the Sun. Prof Brown deduced this from the half-a-dozen asteroids in the outer solar system whose elliptical orbits lined up on one side — which makes him a genius. I would also invite him to face India’s celebrity astrologers to discuss the effect Planet 9 might have on India as an emerging power. Alas, our astrologers, like our Dear Leader, do not enjoy our Glorious Culture and Tradition being questioned.

In the end, no matter who’s in power, the parades remain the same. India is a Republic in which nothing ever changes — just ask Rohith Vemula’s family. In the late David Bowie’s paraphrasing of George Orwell, “We love you, Big Brother”. Rah rah BrahMos!

Journalist and writer Aditya Sinha is the co-author of Kashmir: The Vajpayee Years. He tweets @autumnshade. Send your feedback to

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