Happy Republic Day?

Written by  //  January 26, 2011  //  National Politics  //  Comments Off on Happy Republic Day?

Whenever I think of Republic Day, I think of the years on end in the early nineties when I punctiliously parked myself in front of my television on cold winter mornings in Kolkata, waiting to sing the national anthem, salute the awardees who had made my nation proud and be dazzled by India’s cultural heritage and military capability displayed in the annual parade that was undoubtedly the highlight of the programme. A similar gamut of emotions engulfed me every year while watching the event—Goosebumps-inducing pride when hearing the stories of valour of our jawans, a sense of deep sympathy for the President, the grandfatherly Shankar Dayal Sharma, seeing him having to stand through a large section of the parade returning the salute of the armed forces, and an unmatched sense of wonderment seeing the floats of the different states, with an added dash of pride when West Bengal came along with its repertoire of Baul singers and Chhau dancers. It was India’s day out—we were very much a poor Third World country, but for an impressionable eight-year old, India was a rosy dreamland of brave soldiers who made me feel safe and graceful danseuses who made me feel happy.

Growing up, a healthy, albeit sometimes excessive sense of realism and the inquisitive spirit that accompanies higher education, have resulted in a far more complex set of emotions on Republic Day. I did not watch the parade this year- a difficult time difference and a waning of my earlier over-enthusiasm were responsible- and instead turned to the newspaper where two shocking stories, one of collector Yashwant Sonawane being burnt alive in Maharashtra for doing his job and the other of the BJP’s farcical ekta yatra to hoist the tricolour in Lal Chowk, Srinagar caught my attention. There is a lot which is right about India today but for me, these two incidents poignantly captured what was wrong, which tempered the remnants of my innocent national pride on Republic Day.

The idea of a republic was not mere symbolic posturing by the powers-that-were in newly independent India. It was the ultimate expression of India’s sovereignty, in choosing to be governed by the Constitution which upheld the rule of law rather than the rule of the king, as had been the colonial practice. Accompanying such a development, it was hoped would be responsible politics, a clearly defined political space for resolving disagreement, forging consensus and acting in concert for the unity and development of the fledgling nation state. Sonawane’s killing and the attempted flag hoisting in Lal Chowk present a direct repudiation of these founding beliefs of the Republic of India.

While one should be wary of drawing generalised conclusions from single instances, the Sonawane killing is representative of a larger trend of ruthless killing of honest officers and citizens attempting to expose corruption. Yogendra Pandey, a road works engineer who paid with his life for cancelling a contract for non-performance; Shanmugham Manjunath, an IndianOil Corporation executive killed for sealing petrol stations selling adulterated fuel, Satyendra Dubey, a National Highways Authority of India officer, killed under mysterious circumstances while attempting to expose high-level corruption in the Golden Quadrilateral Project are recent examples which come to mind. Not only are the murders themselves heinous but the sheer difficulty of meting out justice, not just to the killers themselves but also the corrupt whose misdeeds were sought to be exposed, has meant that the deterrent value of the criminal justice system has diminished abysmally. Apart from illustrating the sorry state in which the lofty constitutional ideal of the rule of law finds itself in India today when an acceptable answer to an inconvenient officer is to kill him.

Largely responsible for this state of affairs is politics in India. Although a number of examples can illustrate the pettiness of Indian politics today, the BJP’s ekta yatra from Calcutta to Srinagar to hoist the tricolour at Lal Chowk is particularly revealing. At a time when the Kashmir valley has shown signs of recovering from the unrest that had brought life to a standstill for most of 2010, the BJP felt it to be an opportune moment to provoke the separatists and perhaps cause a fresh spate of violence. And to ironically term their efforts an ekta yatra. Of course, the BJP is right in claiming that everyone has the right to hoist the tricolour in Kashmir. But that scarcely means that the BJP must do so now, when it has not done so in years, even during the time when an NDA coalition was in power. Further, seeking justification in Shyama Prasad Mukherjee’s march into Jammu & Kashmir in 1953 to protest against the requirement of a permit for all Indians to visit the state is specious. The permit system prevented Indians from entering a part of their own country and hence the protest; there is no analogous restriction over flying flags in the Valley, just a question of prudence in not doing so. Continuing to insist on the right to do so is as Varun writes in his post, belittling the dignity of the flag by making it an object in a political parlour game, ostensibly in the guise of upholding its sanctity.

As these tragic and farcical events compete for space in the front page of the newspaper with preparations for India’s grand celebrations of Republic Day at Raj Path, the disjunct between the reality and the spectacle becomes apparent. There are two Indias here- though not Rahul Gandhi’s rich and poor- but the real and the unreal. And the truth, it must be said, lies somewhere in the middle.

Comments are closed.