For us children it was an annual treat: The Republic Day parade in Calcutta. Early in the winter morning, we children, and my two cousins who lived in distant Panchgani and visited us during holidays, would be sent off in the family car, driven by Behari Lal, the chauffeur. Often we’d be accompanied by my friend, Saleem, the young son of Mohammed Ali, the chowkidar of our apartment building on Chowringhee.
We’d get to the great green sprawl of the Maidan, alongside which lay the broad sweep of Red Road. To get a better view, we children would clamber atop the roof of our Fiat, the metal buckling under our feet, much to the consternation of Behari Lal.
The crowd would become a single breath held in anticipation. Then, from the distance would come the brave skirl of bagpipes, the throb of drums, and the tramp, tramp, tramp of boots striding in synchrony. The crowd would erupt in a huge cheer as the soldiers, splendid in their uniforms, paraded past.
There must have been a VIP taking the salute as the troops marched. But there was no police bandobast, no barricades. The Republic Day belonged to us, to we, the people, no matter what part of the country we came from, no matter what faith our names suggested we subscribed to.
Today Republic Day has become a grand spectacle staged in Delhi, the seat of centralised power. It is a great show of India’s military might and its increasing importance on the international scene, and is attended by a host of VIPs, screened off from the common crowd by hawkeyed security personnel and physical barriers.
Like the day dedicated to it, the republic itself seems to have undergone a transformation. Once, all of us who lived in it could claim to be its legitimate citizens, without having officially-stamped papers to prove it.
We were the republic, and the republic was us. We belonged to the republic and the republic belonged to us, not to an abstraction called the State which brooks no dissent or deviation from its diktat.
The re-public has sundered itself from its public.
DISCLAIMER : Views expressed above are the author’s own.