A ceremonial boulevard?
My earliest childhood memories of Rajpath include a trip to the Republic Day Parade, tightly holding onto my 6” 1’ tall father’s little finger, my height barely making it to his knees! Even as I trotted and skipped along happily - an eager, unassuming child of 5-6, who could barely manage to keep pace with his long strides, dad suddenly scooped me up and placed me on his shoulders to accord me a wonderful view of the Parade smartly marching past as he gave a running commentary all of his own.
Even though he tried to impress upon me the importance of the Republic Day and pointed out the might of the Indian Armed Forces and asked me to salute when the National anthem played – my ultimate joy lay in watching the Presidential carriage move forward majestically; the school children who performed in the biting cold; watch in wide-eyed wonder the tableaux trundling past and finally craning my neck as the fly-past took place. As the fighter planes of the Indian Air Force seemed to take off from behind Rashtrapati Bhavan, zoom past the Presidential dais and complete their impeccable routine overhead and disappear over India Gate, it was a magnificent site to behold.
Back those days, security as you and I understand it today, never existed. The trademark barricades were meant more to streamline the crowds than to keep them away from action. The joy of being part of the world’s largest democracy and a young, nascent republic was still alive and patriotism a big deal. Republic Day was a cherished and looked forward to tradition.
Almost three decades to the day, Rajpath has a sinister air about it now. It was recently witness to a stifling of mass spontaneous protest – which erupted in the wake of one of India’s most horrific gang rape cases. Rajpath or King’s Way, the royal central avenue of Delhi, envisioned and executed by Britain’s greatest architect Sir Edwin Lutyens and his assistant Herbert Baker provides a grand scenic view from the Raisina Hill all the way to India Gate and up to National Stadium, which was incidentally built to block the view of Purana Qila! Flanked by the Secretariat buildings – the North and the South Block respectively, it offers to this nation of one billion an air of serenity and calm - overtly.
And its beauty was marred when an insecure government, instead of facing the truth about a deteriorating law and order situation, chose to exercise its might through water cannons and tear gas shells on young protesters. As Vijay Chowk, the site for the historic Beating the Retreat every 29th of January, reverberated with the sounds of gun shots in the air, I was reminded of how things have deteriorated. As the 64th Republic Day draws a pace, one can only hope as dancers dance down Rajpath joyously, the military showcases its might, the states proclaimed of our country’s rich diversity and the school children innocently adhere to idealism as they perform their feats – that our lawmakers would remember that stifling free voice in a democracy is not the way forward.