Why can't there be an Infosys or Reliance tableau on R-Day?
When President K R Narayanan inspects the Republic Day Parade in New Delhi on Friday morning, he -- and his one billion fellow-citizens -- will celebrate only part of India's achievements and progress.
This is a pity. In these times of liberalisation, globalisation and all that, when the important role of the private sector in nation-building is being recognised, appreciated and emphasised, the Parade will be marked by symbols of India's familiar traditions and customs, not achievements that the 21st century Indian cherishes.
A terrible sense of deja vu would envelop one when freshly painted forest-green ancient military trucks (but with brand new tyres), gaudily dressed dancers from different states, grotesque tableaux depicting mediocre successes of the infamous public sector march past the President down Rajpath.
Apparently, there won't be even a single tableau to celebrate the spirit of globalisation and economic liberalisation, the underlying theme of India's coming of age in the last decade.
One wonders why the Parade should be an all-government-no-private sector affair. If a scam-tainted smoking gun called howitzer, manufactured by a foreign company (Bofors), can be displayed as India's pride, why on earth can't there be a tableau of, say, Infosys Technologies or Reliance Petroleum? Have not these corporates achieved enough to make India proud in the global league?
Look at this issue from the standpoint of a young Indian. Why is the Parade held at all? Well, surely not for pomp and ceremony so our ministers, politicians, bureaucrats and diplomats can have a ball, enjoying the pageantry with their wives and others from their VVIP, ego-friendly seats? Surely not to create an annual opportunity to wipe the dust off our sophisticated, expensive, defence equipment?
A full month's preparation and rehearsals precede the elaborate R-Day Parade. Besides the defence personnel, the Parade includes hundreds of school and college students who would have vied with thousands for a place in the teams of NCC, NSS, scouts and guides. There would be cultural troupes that converge on New Delhi from different states. The livestock (horses, elephants, etc) of the defence forces are given a makeover so they appear neat and smart. Millions of tax-payers's rupees are spent to ensure that every single detail, including security for the VVIPs, is worked out to precision.
Why? Well, there are a few reasons, one of which is obvious: it can't be otherwise -- it would be bad form to present a poorly organised parade to the world. The Parade is a short, pithy statement that the government makes to the world: 'This Is India'. Add a comma followed by *Beware!* to that three-word statement, if you will.
That is not all: the R-Day Parade is a reminder to the citizens in general and the youth in particular -- the future generations -- of the nation's strengths, achievements, greatness, progress so far. It is also a reassertion of the government's claim that it is in control and the citizens are safe.
In this age of satellite television and the Internet, one can discern the State's motive to exploit the Parade's potential to create the feel-good sentiment in the minds of Indians the world over, drill a sense of awe in the underdeveloped world, instill the fear of the Almighty in hostile neighbours and generate an emotion of respect in indifferent, condescending superpowers.
So imagine the results if the R-Day Parade remains no different from exercises of the past, full of insipid, hackneyed patriotic sounds and drills. (One is not talking of the national anthem, Saare Jahan Se Achcha and Vande Mataram).
One remembers how novel and imaginative the move seemed some years back when the authorities decided to include Squadron Leader Rakesh Sharma, the first Indian in space, in the R-Day Parade. That decision raised hopes that the authorities had their fingers on the pulse of public mood. Alas....
Visualise this: a Mukesh Ambani atop an eye-catching tableau displaying a model of the world's largest grassroots refinery (Reliance Petroleum's Jamnagar project), saluting the tri-colour and President Narayanan, or a Narayana Murthy or an Azim Premji, punching a laptop's keys even as their tableau moves down Rajpath. Why, Non Resident Indian achievers such as Sabeer Bhatia, Gururaj Deshpande, Sanjeev Sidhu, Vinod Khosla, Kanwal Rekhi and Naveen Jain are no less inspirational, and their core must be as Indian as that of, say, a Bajaj or a Birla or a Tata.
These icons are the symbols of a resurgent India, stuff that can inspire a thousand dream ventures, a million or more entrepreneurs, and perhaps an entire generation that can transform India. Sure, all these guys are darlings of the media and are watched and written about day in and day out. However, it is not the same as exposure at the R-Day Parade which still has a certain sanctity and charm of its own, and is now watched, live, by hundreds of millions of Indians and Indophiles.
One is not advocating privatisation of the R-Day Parade -- though the idea by itself may not be a bad one: television channels would not mind at all if mega corporations are allowed to pump in megabucks to make the annual pageant more camera-friendly. Moreover, it would perhaps save the exchequer a tidy sum in our times of galloping fiscal deficits and soaring expenditures. A tough, ethical process can be evolved for selecting companies for the R-Day Parade. Be that as it may.
All one is pointing at is an opportunity to give the private sector its due on the national festival day. All one is seeking is a situation where the real role-models -- not prototypes of nuclear warheads and dummy dish antennae -- are given an opportunity to embody the spirit of 21st century India.
One is not sure though whether these spotlight-shy legends would agree to come out of their shells and salute the President and the tri-colour on R-Day. But then, it is difficult to imagine that they would have the gall -- or insanity, if you will -- to turn down an honour like that.
By co-opting the private sector for the celebration of the Republic of India, a new face and a refreshing character could be infused into an otherwise benign ritual. That could have been a fitting way to kick off the New Millennium's first Republic Day. If only....
This is Associate Editor Y Siva Sankar's first column.
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