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.