Monday, January 21, 2013

Reclaiming Republic Day

In December, a friend and I had a discussion about calls to abandon this year’s Republic Day celebrations.  We were both angry. Policemen had beat back protestors at Rajpath in Delhi on the government’s orders. Within weeks, the government would convert this scene of shame into one that we, the citizens of this Republic, were supposed to be proud of. 

We agreed on two things. The public must send the government a strong, unambiguous signal that its many misdeeds and failings have not been forgotten. However, we also agreed it would not be right to abandon Republic Day. The Republic, after all, is its citizens. 

It is time for that to mean something. Sixty three years ago, we gave to ourselves a Constitution that enshrined our rights and duties. It also enshrined duties and rules by which the State would govern us. It was our social contract. Today, most of those rights, duties and rules have been forgotten or abandoned in practice. It’s easy to blame the government. 

The real fault lies with us. And the Republic Day parade is really a stunningly apt metaphor for this.  A thriving republic requires that we remain active citizens. Instead, over the past 63 years, we have passively sat back and let the government define our participation. It would put on a grand show to thrill the crowds; and we lapped it up. We watched soldiers march in perfect unison. We marveled as fighter pilots flew breathtaking formations a few hundred meters overhead. The song-and-dance of the states’ tableaux added colour; and the recognition given to brave soldiers and children on elephant-back left lumps in our throats.

Then the show ended. We would go back to our lives. We had participated in the celebrations. Hurray, the Republic is strong and well!

It is time to end this charade because Our Republic – as we have defined for ourselves in the Constitution – has not existed in practice for decades.

For those who claim that attending the Parade is a tradition, remember this. An overwhelming proportion of Indians has never been to Rajpath on 26 January. In fact, most Delhiites don't go to Rajpath on Republic Day. Do what most Indians - I am part of this group - have "traditionally" done. Watch it on Doordarshan. Or catch it along the rest of the route. The idea is to send a message to this government, not abandon our soldiers or our culture. 



But boycotting the parade along Rajpath is not enough. We need to start truly participating in our Republic. There are several ideas on how we can do this on 26 January (please add yours in the comments). Here’s my suggestion. While the parade is on, get online and find your MP on PRS Legislative’s excellent, easy-to-use website. Then scan their track record (What’s their attendance? How many debates have they participated in? How many questions have they asked? Are you satisfied with this?). If you are, write them a thank you note. They deserve encouragement for doing things right. You can find their contact details by looking them up on the Lok Sabha Website . If you’re not happy, let them know why and what you expect from them before the next election.

(My MP is Surendra Singh Nagar from Gautam Buddha Nagar. He has an 80% attendance record, has participated in 22 debates and has asked 324 questions. Relatively speaking, he’s been doing a fair job and he will get a thank you note with suggestions for improvement.)

What will you be doing to reclaim the Republic this 26 January? Share your ideas in the comments and maybe you’ll find others who want to join you. I wish you a Happy Republic Day. And remember, don't be a citizen on just one day in the year. 

5 comments:

  1. First of all, let me give u thank you for an excellent suggestion. I have already started the blog.
    The other thought would be creating and promoting self help groups to tackle local issues.

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  2. Very well articulated Pierre.. I have to do my homework now and check up on my MP's track record. But I completely agree with everything you said. And its nice of you to offer solutions, instead of being just an arm chair critic ( as most of us, including me, usually end up being) Kudos !

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  3. Excellent initiative.I have worked with some parliamentarians in UK (some of them are also not honourable).I would write my suggestions in detail in due course.

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  4. Excellent suggestion Pierre, and what a breath of fresh air in our times of cynicism and sycophancy. These days though, our frustration is so much more with the executive branch of government; turning the gaze only on legislators who could well ask a good 323 questions but still keep an inept Home Minister in office, for example, doesn't sufficiently address this disconnect. Alongwith rewarding/ rebuking our MPs' performance perhaps it;s an idea to do something similar for any one Cabinet Minister and a worthy shadow cabinet-ish MP. So 3 report cards in all, but well worth a symbolic start to deepiening our engagement as citizens.

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  5. I am so proud of you Pierre. ALways knew you were Proactive & not Reactive.

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