Republic Day Rumblings
On an occasion to celebrate the nation beyond selective nationalism and colours of preference, let us exercise our right to be critical as aware citizens
Glorifying 69 years of the Indian Republic, the grand national event was marked by the spectacular march of military bands, display of some state-of-the-art equipment of the armed forces, and a few states, besides the unusual number of Chief Guests gracing our occasion. With the tradition of celebrating India's rich cultural diversity and military might, Republic Day instills in general public psyche the idea of an idealised Indian nation which only ever gets better. How close is this to the truth? Might we see past the annual fervour and pomp of this occasion and spare a thought to the actual significance of this day?
India's increasing need for international regional security and bankable foreign relations make it necessary to strengthen ties with ASEAN states. Looking East now was a well-timed diplomatic exercise. Among the heads of ASEAN states was a most imposing figure of our times, an eminent diplomat and a political figure, and the first incumbent State Counsellor of Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi – the de facto head of government who has been representing Myanmar despite the domestic crisis of Roningya genocide condemned globally. Notwithstanding the status of the (virtually real) officially de facto head of the state, the position of Aung San Suu Kyi symbolises two very crucial things: the persistence and prevailing of democracy, and the value of an indomitable leadership.
Being a day of symbolism, the Republic Day tableaux featured a conspicuously common element in its pattern of display. The select states that were represented displayed unique cultural and regional diversity, along with a very clever exhibition of political diversity across India. Environment and youth were given special attention among other matters of immediate concern. Indeed, a nation-wide understanding of these key issues will enable the necessary awareness and empowerment of people. Let us believe that a symbolic representation is a fair start.
A highlight of this grand event was the presence of women in the defense and security forces. After much debate (and delay), women are set to enter the more demanding and critical areas of defense. Beginning with their foray into Air combat, Indian women have raised their stature a notch above. This spectacle reminds the spectator of two general things: women and soldiers. While women are aggrandised on occasions such as this, their issues remain a matter of political (or politicised) discussions: from societal thoughts about the girl child to her food and nutrition to her education to menstruation to marriage and succumbing further to the patriarchal diktats of a reluctant society.
The humble soldier dutifully renders his service to the nation as and when demanded, and without forcefully insisting on his-her due in return for their service. There is no overstating the necessity of the military as a mandatory requirement to safeguard a domestic environment to enable welfare, development, and progress that will take India beyond its territorial borders. The procurement of military hardware strengthens the institution of the military. But questions loom large about the welfare of the personnel as citizens with a civilian life behind and ahead of them. If only there was a system to treat soldiers as priority citizens could there be a more defined understanding of needs and privileges.
It is imperative to keep the engine of economic growth functional. Fortifying ties with South Asian associates to secure a possible stronghold over a territory with disputed claim serves a purpose beyond regional hegemony. It is the carrot of resources that tempts nations and governments to vandalise nature in any form. The South China Sea is a victim in line. As far as securing territory is concerned, a deterring presence in the region is obligatory, but the prospect of extracting resources for economic gains (when there is a renewed emphasis on environment and climate) ought to be a matter of public debate. The resources from the South China Sea will neither retrieve a languishing India nor instantly turn it into a superpower. If the inputs going in the extraction from this maritime region were invested in developing the social sector, would that not guarantee more lasting returns—qualitatively better human resource and similarly upgraded infrastructure?
Republic Day is an occasion to celebrate the nation beyond notions of selective nationalism and colours of preference. The Constitution encourages us to inculcate a scientific temper. Let us exercise our right to be critical as aware, informed, and thinking citizens.
(The author is Senior Copy Editor with Millennium Post. The views are strictly personal)