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Millennium Post

Unveiling the republic

Despite the Capital’s coming under the spell of ‘dharna-fever’ unleashed for two days outside Rail Bhavan near Rajpath by the Aam Aadmi Party (AAP) head and Delhi chief minister Arvind Kejriwal’s team, the fervour of the aam aadmi to watch India’s 65th Republic Day parade remains unaffected. The excitement to watch it live, on the ground, is what a Dilliwala expresses passionately till the last day. Like every year, 2014 too will celebrate this day accompanied by all the fanfare and grandeur that it entails each year, reviving the patriotic nerve and fibre in each Indian.

It is important to understand the build-up to this much-awaited day, as all the preparations for it begin several months in advance. ‘The nodal agency which coordinates all activities related to Republic Day is the ministry of defence. It works in tandem with every other ministry and department to make this grand celebration a success. Under the ministry, it is the department of ceremonial which takes care of all the preparations,’ said a senior official. Every year Delhi’s aam aadmi is present on the ground and viewers across the world sit hooked to their television sets watching the function being broadcast live. There are two major events of national importance in the country for which such intense preparation is needed – Independence Day (15 August) and then Republic Day (26 January). A senior official from the defence ministry told Millennium Post, ‘The preparation for Republic Day begins from September after Independence Day celebrations conclude. All the coordination works begin soon after Independence Day, which isn’t celebrated on as large a scale as Republic Day. The initial focus for Republic Day is on the coordination meetings to get the work going.’

The R-Day celebrations back in the 50s had begun as a military parade and it was after a few years that the element of state tableaux was added to it. ‘The parade now includes march-pasts by the tri-services – Army, Navy and Air Force. Each contingent is followed by a band behind them. Apart from that, there are also marches by contingents of Paramilitary Forces, Coast Guard, Territorial Army, DRDO, National Service Scheme (NSS), National Cadet Corps (NCC), ex-servicemen, school children, brave children and others. The parade starts from Vijay Chowk and ends at Red Fort and each of the contingent covers the distance of 2.5 kms at Raj Path,’ explained the ministry official.

The R-Day parade is perked up by the commentary that explains and compliments the contingents that march past the ground. Colonel Ajay Singh, who heads the commentary committee for this Republic Day, explains, ‘Throughout the year we keep getting feedback from different channels of the three forces and other segments for contributing to the commentary. We start working on the commentary about two to three months in advance. After that we start on the most important part – the introduction – which highlights the achievements of the participating contingents.’

‘There are four to five people in this team for Hindi and English commentary, while rest is the support staff, for writing it down. Even during the practice sessions of the parade, a lot of changes go into the commentary section. One very crucial aspect of commentary is fine-tuning it according to the time a contingent takes to pass the area where dignitaries are sitting. Synchronisation is a key aspect and requires meticulous planning,’ said Col Singh.

‘The contingent commander has all the information regarding her/his team and time it would take to march past, so we coordinate with them. From the beginning to the end every bit is timed and coordinated along with the commentary,’ he added. It is important to note that there is coordination needed at varied levels in the ministry, as be it the NCC cadets, servicemen, school children or others, there is a need to provide accommodation as they start coming to the Capital in beginning of January to begin their practice sessions. On ground rehearsal at Rajpath begins on 17 January. The main celebrations begin with parade on 26 January, followed by culture programmes and finally on 29 January — the ceremony of Beating Retreat is held, when soldiers march back to their barracks.

This year there are 18 tableaux – 12 from different states, one from a Union Territory and five from various ministries. Five items are being performed by school children and there are 25 bravery awards for children. There are a total of 31 army bands, one from the Navy and one from the Air Force as well as nine bands from the paramilitary forces (including the Camel band from the BSF).

Explaining the concept of the Navy tableau, Vice Admiral HCS Bisht told Millennium Post, ‘Every year we have three contingents from Navy participating — band, marching and naval tableau. We were awarded best marching contingent last year along with Air Force. We hope this year too we win it. This year we have a new contingent, which is of children from naval schools. The main theme for the tableau this year is the indigenous submarine building capability of Navy, wherein we will showcase a submarine model as well.’

Practice for parade begins early morning at around 4 am from mid-January as the aim of the preparation is to have zero error. On the final day, the ceremony begins with the Prime Minister paying homage at Amar Jawan Jyoti. Thereafter, the foreign dignitary, who is the chief guest (this year it is the Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe) and the President are escorted to the main podium for this ceremony. President’s Body Guards (PBGs) on horseback escort the dignitaries to the bulletproof glass-cased podium.

The President unfurls the national flag, as the national anthem is played, and a 21-gun salute is given as the PBG renders the National Salute. Next, important awards like the Ashok Chakra and Kirti Chakra are given away by the President, before the march past commences. ‘The regiments selected for the parade are called on the basis of seniority and rotation of units,’ said an official from the ministry.

 The parade this year would be led by General Officer Commanding (GOC) of Delhi Area – Lt Gen Subroto Mitra. He will be followed by deputy GOC – Maj Gen Rajbir Singh. The President of India, who is the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces, will take the salute. The first contingent from the armed forces is usually a cavalry battalion followed by a mechanised column, which includes tanks and showcases the weapon system, after this follow in the marching contingents, each of them being followed by a band. Army, being the senior most and largest of the three forces, leads the parade.

The parade traditionally ends with dare devil motorcycle acrobatics. This year it would be performed by the BSF, and a flypast by the Indian Air Force jets and helicopters carrying the national flag and the flags of the three services. After this, balloons are released by the Indian Meteorological Department to mark the end of the parade.

The flypast depends on the weather conditions. The flypast this year would comprise 27 aircraft of IAF and three helicopters of Indian Army’s aviation arm. These include 16 fighters, four transport aircraft and 10 helicopters. All these aircraft will be flying in from Rashtrapati Bhavan side and exit towards the India Gate between at a height of 60 metres to 300 metres above ground level.

Talking about the preparations done by the NCC cadets, Lt Col Pratik Saxena, Joint Director Publicity, NCC, told Millennium Post: ‘NCC cadets start reaching Delhi from 31 December onwards for practice. This year the NCC Republic Day camp has 2,070 cadets, out of which are 707 girl cadets. There are two contingents for the NCC having 148 girls and boys in each. The contingent commander for boys is Under Officer Dhanraj Lahane from Maharashtra directorate while the girls’ contingent is led by Under Officer Reena Subba from West Bengal and Sikkim directorate. This year, 98 NCC cadets from Jammu and Kashmir and 157 from North East are participating.

‘Each NCC contingent is followed by two bands – one of girls and other boys. NCC has a total of four bands, of which three are participating this year out of which two groups have been formed. The boys band with 90 cadets is from Scindia School, Gwalior and Sainik School, Kapurthala, while the girls band with 51 cadets is from Birla Balika Vidyapeeth, Pilani.’

Explaining how cadets are selected for the R-Day parade, Lt Col Saxena said, ‘The selection of cadets for Republic Day camp is done from 17 NCC directorates. After the selection, these cadets come in under their state contingents from which cadets are individually selected for the Republic Day parade. The selection process begins by July/August every year.’

NCC cadets start arriving in Republic Day camp, which was formally inaugurated this year by Vice-President Hamid Ansari on 7 January. The R-Day camp finally culminates with a grand finale with the prime minister’s rally in which the contingents march accompanied by performance of various activities like rhythmic yoga, slithering, parasailing and other activities.

Other than the military aspect one very important component during the R-Day parade is the cultural aspect. A defence ministry official said, ‘For the selection of tableaux there is an expert committee. The tableaux are made in Delhi. The committee goes to each state for the selection process to finalise them.’
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