Are these the mounting security concerns which have reduced our national days of pride to protected affairs of the privileged lot or there is complete disconnect between power elite and the peoples?
The world’s largest democracy is into celebration mode for its sixty-fourth Republic Day and the country looks clearly divided into four nations –the first are the power elite who believe in national day celebrations as their exclusive privilege, the second are the over excited guardians of national security who are committed to ensure the power elite a hassle free feeling of national pride, third are the showmen for whom performance has various reasons ranging from patriotism, professionalism to official compulsion.
The fourth are the usual suspects who make above ninety percent of the nation’s population and under the unwritten security protocol of national day celebrations they are strictly advised to stay indoors, catch up with performance of their school going children on cable TV.
The more patriotic among the fourth category may tune in to Doordarshan for an update on country’s military might or those spectacular air shows raining petals over New Delhi’s unusually clear skies.
Siege as a South Asian feature
Nationwide siege on national days is, in fact, a common national feature across entire South Asia where the concept of independence and freedom is very important to everyone. In Pakistan, the Independence Day on August 14 is the occasion of national emergency where communication networks are jammed, roads leading to important cities are choked and curfews are imposed in sensitive areas as leaders reiterate commitment to the idea of Pakistan.
In Sri Lanka, which attained freedom from British in 1948, the Independence Day on February 4 is a besieged affair. Bangladesh has two days of importance –March 26 as Independence Day and December 16 as Foundation Day.
Unlike the siege in other South Asian countries, some bloodletting is an additional feature of the national days of Bangladesh as followers of Sheikh Mujeebur Rehman and General Ziaur Rehman still continue to fight it out on the streets and in the countryside seeking legitimacy and centrality of the role of their respective leaders in establishing independent Bangladesh.
India is a big brother in South Asia, though the struggle of its people for independence from the British has been a story of great heroic resistance together with the people of today’s Pakistan and Bangladesh but post independence cultures and narratives have put things into difference practice.
Therefore, in display of military might New Delhi stands out among few capitals in the world. Beyond Delhi the Republic Day is all reduced to the designer creases, crisp salutes, and well rehearsed cultural shows in the empty stadiums guarded by garrisons. This all is important but where is the sense of public participation or the patriotic fervour as next day’s newspapers mention in a standard format.
For the power elite the Republic Day, or for that matter the Independence Day, comes as an occasion of feeling and making others to feel their being in the power. Reports of preparations for the celebrations, as one may gather from different parts of the country or State, would suggest that no efforts are made in making national days inclusive.
Every step towards preparing for national days contributes in alienating people from what ought to be collective festivals of the country. This disconnect has just widened over last two decades.
Extraordinary hype in J&K
The Civil Defence wing of Jammu and Kashmir Police is though still innovating implausible answers to its incredibly stupid nuclear warfare advisory as spotted in a Srinagar daily, but the State is clearly in a mode of emergency on the occasion of Republic Day.
In the security establishments no words are minced about special ‘crisis management’. ‘Red alert’ and ‘high security alert’ are some of the codes of operations. Following the unwritten advisories most of the schools are done with their Republic Day celebrations as advance as on January 24.
The children of other schools who have not been selected for the neighbourhood parades or cultural shows have been given an additional holiday on Friday as ‘large crowds pose security threats’. Subject line in a notice of Traffic Police put in the newspapers of Jammu, the winter capital city and the main official venue of flag hoisting ceremony, advises route diversions for public convenience.
However, reading the notice paragraph by paragraph unfolds series of inconveniences –no vehicles, not even passenger vehicles, are allowed to enter the town, private vehicles, even of those people intending to join the Parade ceremony, have to be parked at places five kilometres away from the venue.
The Governor, who as head of the State has to be the person-above-all for the day, the Chief Minister, his Home Minister and the top brass in the Police would never know about the long queues of vehicles at all roundabouts and intersections confronted by the structurally arrogant search parties asking questions completely irrelevant to maintenance of security.
Having once passed through one of those Republic Day related special security measures, something called celebration or patriotic fervour are the most unlikely thoughts to hit one’s mind in many days.
Maintenance of security for the public is most important and it is also understandable that some days in the year come with high risk than the others. However, what we all know pretty well is the fact that Jammu and Kashmir has moved far ahead of 1990s when explosives would make way to the podium of the Governor when delivering the Republic Day address.
A top security officer recently put the total number of militants in the State at 300 while another said that five more are reported to have sneaked in through LoC in Poonch sector. 300 is no number for the State in which individual villages would host this much number two decades ago.
While we are conscious of the fact that even a single gunshot is enough to vitiate atmosphere of peace and therefore security cannot be compromised but what essentially needs to be shunned is the hype.
The idea of Republic Day and Independence Day of India suffers from multiple challenges in Kashmir Valley but lessening of hype and inclusive approach to participation would certainly be useful everywhere.
Unless the people at the top don’t realise portends of hyped security measures, the fourth nation, as mentioned initially, would always keep itself alienated from the days of national flavours.
Columnist is a senior journalist and Asia Society Fellow on India-Pakistan Young Leaders Forum.