On the 69th Republic Day on January 26 this year, the nation will once again witness the colourful march of armed forces contingents and cultural tableaux passing through the Rajpath in the national capital, a tradition the country has maintained ever since the Constitution was promulgated in 1950, proclaiming that the Head of the State will be an elected representative of the people. This coupled with the concept of Universal Adult Franchise – the right to vote irrespective of caste, creed, religious and gender considerations -- enshrined in the Indian Constitution makes Indian democracy a much more advanced system of governance compared to all existing democracies in the world. That India was able to accord its citizens such civil and democratic rights nearly 70 years ago and continued on the path without faltering even once speaks in glowing terms of India's deep-rooted belief in democratic values. The occasion also marks a show of India's military might and cultural diversity, a measure that instills pride and confidence among the large population that India has about the nation's capability to fend off any internal or external threat. The cultural tableaux showcase the innate beauty of the nation in the form of song and dances, rural life and livelihoods, urban progress and scientific advancements. The Republic Day celebrations complement richly to Indian tradition of gaiety and festivity. They reaffirm the glory of India as the land of bountiful resources and lively traditions.
This year on the Republic Day functions, India has invited 10 ASEAN (Association of South-East Asian Nations) head of states and governments as Chief Guests. In 2014, Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe was the Chief Guest, followed by US President Barack Obama in 2015, French President Francois Hollande in 2016 and Crown Prince of UAE Mohammed bin Nahyan in 2017. This year the occasion will be graced by Myanmar state counselor and de facto head of the government Aung San Suu Kyi, Prime Minister of Laos Thangloun Sisoulith, Indonesian President Joko Widodo, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Xuan Phuc, Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak, Philippines President Rodrigo Duterte, Singapore Prime Minister Lee Hsien Loong, Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, Thailand Prime Minister Prayut Chan-Ocha, and Sultan of Brunei Hassanal Bolkiah. The presence of these head of states and governments on India's Republic Day functions and bilateral talks that will follow hold immense significance for the country's diplomatic, business and security engagements with these nations. Looking at the importance of Indo-ASEAN relations, India has initiated Act East Policy that prioritizes the country's engagements in various fields with these nations having a strategically important coastal region and a major stake in sea trade. Many of these countries are geographically closer to India's North-Eastern region and an upgrade in relations with these countries will spur the country's development initiatives in the NE region. NE region borders with China, Myanmar, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Bhutan. While China already has developed greater cooperation with South-East Asian nations as well as South Asian countries, India needs to speed up its co-operation with ASEAN not only to boost its diplomatic, business and security interests but also to counter China's monopoly in the region. As China has claimed its sovereignty on the South China Sea and completed construction of a military base on the man-made island, its aggressive posture has antagonised many a country, more notably Vietnam and Philippines. US, Japan and India have already flagged concerns on China's over-assertiveness in South China Sea as that infringes on other nations' rights on free movement of cargo in international waters. India has inked deals with Vietnam to explore oil and gas in the same region and that brings it in direct confrontation with China. Relationship with ASEAN can act as a check on China's policy of expansionism that makes it eye even Indian territory. India's democratic traditions and its policy of peaceful co-existence will find an echo among ASEAN leaders it is going to host as Chief Guests on the Republic Day functions tomorrow. The display of BrahMos and Akash missiles as well as the Narishakti, a BSF women contingent performing stunts on motorcycles, at the R-Day functions tomorrow will aptly showcase India's capability to strike enemies as well as the soft side of the country's new-found confidence and assertiveness. Prime Minister Narendra Modi had begun with inviting all Heads of States of the South Asian countries including Pakistan Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif to his oath-taking ceremony in May 2014 in his bid to bond with neighbours on a personal note. On this Republic Day, his being in the company of 10 ASEAN heads of states underlines his resolve to take that policy to the next level.