And so, one more Republic Day went by. Once more we saw the military parade on TV; once more we marvelled at the cultural diversity on display at the Rajpath in the capital. And once more we battled in our minds whether the display of military muscle is a throwback to Soviet era extravagance or is it a justified celebration of the idea of the Republic of India.
We are a billion plus Indians and about 810 million of us will be eligible to vote for the 16th Lok Sabha this year. A right that our constitution gives us, a right we exercise every five years and we celebrate once a year on 26th January. Our constitution is 65 years old and we have never seen a military coup in our country. Every government has been elected by the people and has handed over reins to the next government through elections. To me that itself is reason to be proud of being an Indian.
But it is hard to be patriotic in these trying times. We live in an era of information overdose. Messages, mostly negative are beamed at us constantly. At the top of TV news stories focus negative news. The front page your newspaper is always about corruption scams, disaster news, and the tumble of the currency. Negative news sells. And we buy. Unquestioningly or unwittingly. It is so easy to crib, curse and be despondent because we have nearly twice the number of malnourished children than Sub Saharan Africa has. Or only 21 percent of our population has access to water and sanitation. Or more than half of rural households do not have electricity. Or 400 million Indians do not have access to proper toilets.
On the flipside, we have eradicated polio, we have sent a space mission to Mars, and we acquired another aircraft carrier, INS Vikramaditya. India's first indigenous Light Combat Aircraft got its second Initial Operational Clearance to join the Indian Air Force. An Indian-made cryogenically-powered rocket blasted off from Sriharikota earlier this month. After toiling for 20 years of being denied foreign technology, this dream has now fructified. How can we not be proud of being Indian?
Mark Twain said, “Loyalty to country always. Loyalty to government, when it deserves it.” It was true then, and resonates even more today. Many of us hesitate in wearing our patriotism on our sleeves lest we are seen as being supportive of the government of the day. Not that it is wrong. It is just that equating the two is erroneous. Opposing a government is not unpatriotic. Opposing systems that are unjust is not anarchy.
Jeopardising life and liberty by orchestrating and indulging in rioting and mob violence is anarchy. The duty of a patriot is to protect the country and its people, not its government. India’s brand of patriotism is different from China’s or Russia’s. It is extremely self-critical. It is different from the reverential and celebratory patriotism of America too. That super-power has been at war for too long for any other country to mimic its brand of patriotism.
There are various models of patriotism and several types of patriots. Those who revel in pomp and pageantry associated with government and establishment, those who work tirelessly away from the limelight for the upliftment of the downtrodden, and those who guard our borders with guns, so we may talk and think peace.
For most Indians, Republic Day or Independence Day celebrations mean just lazing on public holidays with patriotic Bollywood songs blaring into their ears and time to reconnect with friends and family. How many of us think of giving back to society and the country on this day?
At least once in your life time try and attend the Republic Day celebrations at the Rajpath in New Delhi. It is tedious to get passes, to queue up in extreme cold weather, and sit for hours without food or drink. If you can muster courage to cope with all this, do it once at least.
While many think it is an embarrassing waste of resources, I for one am a sucker for the parade, even though it is so predictable and so stuffy. And yet it is so Indian. There is tradition and there is modernity.
A feeling of cynicism on seeing the ‘Delhi insiders’ sit in their VVIP enclosures could be difficult to overcome; however, respect for those serving in uniform should be unwavering. Our Jawans still salute the flag, so should you.
Smita Prakash is Editor, News at Asian News International. You can follow her on twitter @smitaprakash