Pomp and Glory: Some Remarks on Indian Republic Day Parade

Republic Day marks the total redemption from the British Raj as it marks the historic day that India embraced its autochthonous Constitution on the 26th of January in 1950.

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President Rajendra Prasad (in horse-drawn carriage) readies to take part in the first Republic Day parade on Rajpath in New Delhi on January 26, 1950 | Photo: Wikimedia Commons

Embracing a New Constitution

By nature, the Republic Day celebration in India is a ceremony displaying the pomp and glory of India not only as a nation but as a civilizational state too. The 15th of August in 1947, the day that the British granted the Dominion status to the Union of India marred its monumental significance by the array of macabre, which encompassed the nation through the ignominious partition. Thus, the 15th of August Independence Day is often filled with the gloominess that the nation faced in the advent of independent statehood. The Republic Day celebration on the 26th of January is a sheer contrast to the modest Independence Day ceremony, which is confined to the Prime Minister’s traditional address from the Red Fort in New Delhi.

Republic Day marks the total redemption from the British Raj as it marks the historic day that India embraced its autochthonous Constitution on the 26th of January in 1950. On the whole, India managed to get rid of all the constitutional ties with the United Kingdom within three years after its independence, whereas Sri Lanka lived with the Dominion-styled Constitution granted to us by Sir Ivor Jennings more than two decades after the independence.

The inspirations arose from the promulgation of a new constitution drafted by the indigenous aspirations of the whole population pushed the nation to a state of jubilation to celebrate Republic Day in style every year. After committing the laborious task of drafting the Constitution of India by attending 166 public sessions for nearly two years, the architect of the Indian Constitution Dr B.R Ambedkar stated

“On the 26th of January 1950, we are going to enter into a life of contradictions. In politics we will have equality and in social and economic life we will have inequality. In politics we will be recognizing the principle of one man one vote and one vote one value. In our social and economic life, we shall, by reason of our social and economic structure, continue to deny the principle of one man one value. How long shall we continue to live this life of contradictions? How long shall we continue to deny equality in our social and economic life? If we continue to deny it for long, we will do so only by putting our political democracy in peril”.

Colourful Traditions

For the past 75 years since the day India became a republic, every government that came to power strived to idealize the ethos of Ambedkar’s vision and the current state of success is a collective result of the policymakers, public servants and the people who committed to the core in preserving the republican tradition in the largest democracy of the world. The massive celebrations organized by the Indian government every year to celebrate the Republic Day in Delhi aggrandize the military strength and the technological advancement of the nation. The traditional flow of the parade consists of many items which have not been altered since 1950 such as the President’s starting procession of the parade from the Rashtrapathi Bhavan to the famous India Gate in New Delhi. The most decorated regiments from the Indian Army like the Madras and Punjab Regiments take part in the traditional military parade which is emblematic of India’s military power to the world as the country with the second largest army in the world. Despite having adhered to the traditional flow, the Republic Day parade of 2024 brings some salient changes symbolizing the currents of the socio-cultural trends of the modern Indian society. For instance, the Indian Army for the first time in history allowed women officers from the Artillery Regiment to join the main military parade in New Delhi.

The Kartavya Path, formerly known as Raj Path is the traditional avenue for the Republic Day parade and it holds a historical significance depicting its part in India’s national struggle. The path stretches from Rashtrapathi Bhavan to India Gate, which is dedicated to the hallowed memory of the Indian soldiers who died in the Great War. Ironically, the British deployed more than one million Indian troops on the Western Front of the war while keeping India under the yoke of the empire. Therefore, the parade that takes place every year between India Gate, a war memorial and Rashtrapathi Bhavan, the edifice which used to be the epicentre of British power in India signifies the gravity of the sacrifice made by the 70,000 soldiers.

The nationalist ideology espoused by the Bharatiya Janata Party under Prime Minister Narendra Modi brought changes to the colonial legacies in Lutyens’ Delhi, which included opening a new parliament and changing the road names that echo the memory of the British Raj. The “Raj Path” which hosts the main military parade of the Republic Day gained a new name called “ Kartavya Path” in 2022, which denoted a complete disintegration from the colonial memories as the name Raj Path derived from the opening of New Delhi as the colonial capital of the British rule of India in 1911.

Geo-Politics of the Parade

Besides displaying the military power and the achievements of the nation, Republic Day stands as an iconic celebration for strengthening foreign relations. Since its inception, the Government of India has invited a distinguished Head of State to attend the Republic Day celebration on the 26th of January as the chief guest.  Thus far, only two Sri Lankan leaders were invited to attend the Republic Day as chief guests, which extended to Mrs. Sirimavo Bandaranaike in 1974 and President J.R Jayawardene in 1988. French President Emmanuel Macron was invited this year as the chief guest for the Republic Day, which is akin to the strategic partnership built by the two countries for the geopolitical issues in the Indian Ocean Region. Against the backdrop of China’s growing footprint in the Indo-Pacific, France came to the fore as a reliable defence partner, who provided Rafale Marine Aircrafts and nuclear submarine technology. The Increased defence cooperation between India and France corresponds to their shared objectives in the Indo-Pacific. It should be noted that Macron’s visit to Indian Republic Day of 2024 as a chief guest is an addendum to the Indo-Franco strategic partnership before the growing Chinese presence in the Indian Ocean Region. All in all, the Republic Day of India and its esteemed traditions are closely imbued with the aspirations of the political, social and also international goals that India yearns to accomplish.

Punsara Amarasinghe

Dr. Punsara Amarasinghe is a lecturer at the Faculty of Law, General Sir John Kotelawala Defence University. His co-edited book “Thirty Years Looking Back: The Rule of Law, Human Rights and State Building in the Post-Soviet Space was published in 2022 .

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