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Nine On Ten.

India, Feb. 6 -- While writing about the Republic Day Parade (RDP) last year I said that I missed the rich timbered voice of Rini Simon-Khanna. I had also hazarded a guess that this year the Chief Guest would be the Emir of Kuwait. After watching this year's RDP I got fiendish pleasure in being spot on last year. Because, this year Rini was a commentator on CNN18, the channel that I happened to be watching; also my prediction of the Chief Guest was very close to the target. After Buddy Barak in 2015 and Francois Hollainde (of France, not Holland) in 2016, it was the Crown Price of Abu Dabhi (a neighbour of Kuwait) this year!

Now to the parade itself. Rini, a veteran of several parades during her years with Doordarshan, rated it as 9/10. The other expert commentator Lt. Gen Narinder Singh (Retd), former Deputy Chief of Army Staff, gave the parade 9.5/10 as he felt that that there was nothing to find fault with. As far as clockwork precision goes, indeed there was nothing to be faulted. After seeing some of the pageantry associated with Trump's presidential inauguration in the USA every Indian can proudly say that we outshine them on every score. Perhaps "developed" countries no longer assign importance to ceremonial grandeur the way we do. Our only rivals are the British, from whom we have inherited most of our ceremonial regalia anyway.

I always take great pride in our regimental pageantry. Maybe I am like the poor peasant who was overawed by the Emperor's new clothes. We servile Indians look up to our rulers, be they the erstwhile gora sahibs, or our slavish mentality to political leaders like the late Jayalalithaa, Mayawati, Mamata, the fair-skinned Gandhis and our very own home-grown messiah, prince of all he surveys, Narendra Damodardas Modi!

What struck me about this year's RDP was the rich cultural diversity. Our President Pranab Mukherji cannot speak the national language Hindi. On the eve of Republic Day he called us a noisy republic (I rather like the term). Our Vice President Hamid Ansari is Muslim; our Prime Minister is from Gujarat. The Chief Justice J.S. Khehar is a Sikh. The bravery awardee, Hawaldar Hangpan Dada (posthumous recipient of the Ashok Chakra, the highest bravery award in peace time) was probably a Buddhist from the remote Tirap district of Arunachal Pradesh. Leading the veterans was Maj Gen (Retd) Cyrus Pethawala a Parsi, and one of the marching contingents was led by Captain Sunit Lopez, probably a Christian. What unity in diversity.

Among the first timers at this year's parade were the indigenously built Tejas Light Combat Aircraft (never mind that they took 30 years to take off) and the Dhanush self-propelled howitzer guns, similar to the Bofors one. The barrels of both are made in the Ordnance factories in Kanpur, my hometown. "The nation needs to know" (a quip from Arnab Goswami - Arnab who?) that most of the workers in these factories get over time every Sunday, because they hardly do any work the rest of the week! Aren't we on a weak wicket (pun intended)? How wicked of me. What I was really thrilled to see was the Black Cat Commandos of the elite National Security Guard. Will they go after Hafiz Saeed in Pakistan the way America's SEALS took out Osama bin Laden?

Now to the sidelines. The Crown Prince was looking suitably bored (our Defence Minister Manohar Parrikar had actually fallen asleep surrounded by the Arab steeds) until he saw the camels. He probably thought they had a monopoly on the ships of the desert. Our camel mounted military band is reportedly the only one of its kind in the world.

Our military has several ethnic regiments like Sikhs, Rajputs, Dogras, Marathas, etc., so I was rather surprised to find two Gorkha Regiments in the parade. Is this because the present Chief of Army Staff, Gen Bipin Rawat, is from the Gorkha Regiment, as also his predecessor, Gen Dalbhir Singh Suhag? Apparently the present Directors General of Military Operations and of Military Intelligence also hail from the Gorkha Regiment. Shades of partiality perhaps? Again, we must gloss over the fact that the Gorkhas are from Nepal, not India.

The marching contingents, as always, were followed by the cultural floats. Despite their vibrant colours they seem largely contrived. In fact Gen Narinder Singh, who has been associated with 30 RDPs, frankly admitted that many of the dances are not traditional folk dances. They are fabricated to fit into a fleeting rhythmic pageant. The only novel float was the one from J & K, with snow and mist from the ski slopes of Gulmarg. The one on Goods and Service Tax was literally skittled out, with all nine pins down. Haryana's focus on the girl child seemed hypocritical, as it has one of the lowed sex ratios, and highest instances of gender injustice. The Khadi India float had a guy with a laptop, something proponents of cottage industries consider anathema! Both Gen Singh and Rini agreed that the Goa float always attracted the highest TRPs and maximum applause. India liberated Goa in 1961. Maybe the rest of India now wants to shed the mantle of tradition and embrace the liberal lifestyle of Goa. Indeed the RDP does raise several issues, and the hidden desires of an aspirational young India.

Last year I had wondered why our White Revolution (biggest producers of milk in the world - spearheaded by the late Verghese Kurien of Amul), Yoga and Bollywood were not featured in the parade. Next year I propose that we also have a float on cricket, the national pass time. This year it would have been fun if the Reserve Bank of India had a float with black money being deposited in a Magic Machine, and white currency floating out at the other end. Surely that would have generated the maximum TRPs, more than Goa's floating casinos!

On a more serious note - what do those who watch the RDP feel? Is it just a momentary high, like an ecstasy drug? Do we then revert to our usual drab crabbity lives? Are young people inspired to join the defence services that are facing am acute shortage of officers? What of active participation in the National Cadet Corps (NCC) or National Social Service (NSS)? I thought the latter had ceased to exist, but was pleasantly surprised to find a unit from the Ewing Christian College in Meghlaya. As Rini Simon said, in a 1 1/2 hour pageant you see the whole of India encapsulated. It makes me proud to be an Indian and to serve my motherland in various ways. The Parade would indeed be 9/10 if more than 9 or 10 young people are inspired to serve the nation.

Published by HT Syndication with permission from Indian Currents.

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Publication:Indian Currents
Geographic Code:9INDI
Date:Feb 6, 2017
Words:1158
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