Accomplished actress Chitrangada Singh recently said, “This Republic Day, I am in no mood to celebrate. We should mourn, introspect and hang our heads in shame.” She is just one among thousands of young Indians on social media and at candle light vigils in cities and towns who have voiced similar sentiments, shaken as they are, after the brutal gang rape of a paramedical student in Delhi and the insensitive remarks of our politicians thereafter.
By all means call for a boycott of Republic Day celebrations; our constitution gives you the freedom to do that. But remember that you are joining the ranks of Maoists and Kashmiri separatists who oppose any celebration of India’s nationhood.
While I empathise with the hurt, anger and disheartenment, I do not subscribe to the cynicism and call for disengagement with our national emblems and celebrations.
Republic Day celebrations are a reaffirmation of our commitment to strengthen our democratic republic. Even if we find ourselves disconnected with the 26th January celebrations (how many of us have read the constitution or even know much about it), we are all united for those few hours irrespective of our social, cultural, political and religious differences.
It is a day that honours our armed forces for keeping us safe. When the three wings of the forces and war veterans march down the majestic Rajpath, they seek from the citizens of the country an affirmation of nationhood, a confirmation of the pride and respect in their sacrifices and endurance. The parade is not a throwback to Soviet-era bombastic flaunting of military might. It is a dignified display of our defence capabilities and joyous celebration of our diversity.
Granted that there is a lot that is wrong with our country, even with our defence services. The shrill ranting on television that bothers some of our elite is an expression of that frustration. It can be dismissed as amoral, unjustified, irresponsible, motivated and TRP hungry. But thankfully, our politicians know better than media critics and genteel social commentators. Even Sonia Gandhi, at the Chintan Shivir in Jaipur on Sunday, asked her party men and women to be cognisant of public anger. She was not dismissive of the rage and disillusionment of the people and asked her party workers to be sensitive towards public sentiment.
The right to protest and demonstrate is our democratic right. It is neither unpatriotic nor anti-national. But there must be maturity in exercising this right. If you boycott Republic Day celebrations, in real terms what does that mean? That you won’t switch on the TV to watch the parade? In what other way do we as citizens observe or celebrate our Republic Day? Even if we do not celebrate the Republic Day, each one of us still celebrates the Republic.
When we exercise our rights — including the right to boycott the Republic Day — and perform our duties as citizens of India, we celebrate the fact that we belong to the Republic of India.
These rights and duties are enshrined in the Indian Constitution which we were not given, but which we gave to ourselves on 26th January 1950. It honours the declaration of independence on the same day in 1930. The Constituent Assembly met, in sessions open to public, over a period of almost three years before adopting the Constitution, which is not just a political document, but the one secular instrument that protects the fundamental nature of our nationhood.
I won’t be among those who call (on Facebook and Twitter) for a ‘revolution’ or a no-show at Rajpath. How many of these ‘boycotters’ show up anyway on a cold winter morning, line up for security check, sit on cold wooden benches without so much as a cup of hot tea for hours on end, waiting for a glimpse of tableaux, dancing children, majestic camels, caparisoned horses, soldiers and their machines?
It reminds me of the times I was bundled in warm clothes and sent in a three-tonne army truck to watch the parade, sitting on durries next to the Rajpath, waving at the national bravery award winning children, who those days used to come atop elephants.
I won’t question the integrity of those who find no reason to celebrate the fact that we are a thriving democratic republic despite our many failings. I, for one, want to watch the solemn ceremony at India Gate when the country joins the Prime Minister in paying respects to the Indian soldier. In my Republic, I trust.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash