31 January 2017 09:14:51 IST

It is time to reinvent the Republic Day Parade

Indian Army's Infantry Combat Vehicles are displayed during the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, India January 26, 2017. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi

The Parade is a relic of a time that might not be as relevant today

By the time you read this, the Republic Day Parade would have been over. Did you watch it?

I did, at least the initial part before I had to head to office. But I had switched on the TV more for my curious four-year-old daughter, who wanted to see soldiers, planes, dancers and ‘Modiji.’ The Parade has always been a showcase of India’s diversity and, as some say, military capability. And it is a nice opportunity to generate curiosity in a child about her country.

But how many Indians really watch the Republic Day Parade?

I asked my friends on social media if they were watching the Parade. Ten responded on Facebook, saying they were watching. On WhatsApp, less than five responded. On Twitter, I got a solitary ‘like’ for my question. In all, I have about 2,000 friends across these social media platforms.

One thing was intriguing — except for one, everyone who responded saying they had watched the Parade was over 30 or, in most cases, 35 years old. I realise that my census is too small, but is it indicative of a larger disinterest among the young, especially the millennials, in the Parade?

A friend, who was watching the Parade, mentioned the nostalgia connected to the event. I couldn’t agree more; watching the initial moments of this year’s Parade, it seemed as I if had gone back to my childhood. The horse riders, helicopters showering the crowd with petals, and the gun salute while the National Anthem was played. And just before it started, I could hear that timeless song sung by Lata Mangeshkar – Aye mere watan ke logon playing in the background, just as it used to be in my school, more than 20 years ago.

I went through the list of main attractions of the 68th Republic Day celebrations. The BSF camel regiment was there, and so were the other old favourites — missiles, the daredevils doing the balancing act on bikes, and the tableaus. Sure, there were additions: the missiles were of the latest generation, the Black Cat Commandoes were part of the march-past for the first time, and Tejas, the indigenously developed light combat aircraft was the highlight, say reports.

But should we really showcase an aircraft that took 33 years to fly?

High viewing

To be fair, Indians across the country still tune in on January 26 to watch the Parade. According to this report , last year’s Parade got 67 million gross impressions (the 2011 cricket World Cup final though was watched by 135 million). DD channels’ ratings went up more than 12 times during these three-four hours. This was the case with other private Hindi and English news channels too.

It would be interesting to see the trend in this viewership over the years. Has it increased or decreased? Also, has there been any change in the demographics of those following the celebrations on TV? How many of them are under the age of 27 — India’s median age?

There is also the issue of Government spend on the Parade. A report says that the Government spent ₹320 crore to put up the show in 2014. In 2001, the expenditure was ₹145 crore. One could say that ₹320 crore is not much compared to what the Government is spending on giant statues. It is, in fact, small change to show the country’s pride.

Relevance

But the Republic Day Parade is a relic of a time that might not be as relevant today. Yes, Donald Trump’s presidency could replay the Cold War days. But it remains to be seen. The threat from Pakistan keeps cropping up, but one is tempted to dismiss it more as a case of grandstanding.

In the years following 1950, when India became a republic, the annual Parade helped instil safety and pride in the citizens, who were still to recover from the ravages of the Independence struggle and faced an uncertain future.

That is not the case any more. Growing up in the fastest growing economy in the world, the Indians of today are more assured and confident about what lies ahead.

Does it mean the Parade should be done away with? Of course not; but it is time to re-invent it. Even as it celebrates our past, the Republic Day Parade has to capture all the potential that is bubbling over in the country. The first step towards this would be to cut down on the bragging about our military might.