Representation and the Republic

The Tamil Nadu government and the citizens of the State are experiencing perceived indignation in the backdrop of a development involving the selection of tableaux from various States for India’s Republic Day parade in New Delhi next week.
Representation and the Republic


Last Tuesday, the Centre said it would not budge from its stance regarding the exclusion of a tableau from Tamil Nadu, a move that was derided by all parties in the State. The tableau proposed by both West Bengal, as well as Kerala have also not made the cut for the Republic Day parade this year.
The Tamil Nadu CM MK Stalin had written to Prime Minister Narendra Modi, expressing his disappointment on the exclusion of the State’s tableau, to which Defence Minister Rajnath Singh had replied, stating that the selections were made as per guidelines and there was no question of bias. In response to the Centre’s decision, Stalin declared the tableau built for the Rajpath parade, would instead be used in Republic Day observations in Chennai. While many political observers quickly pointed out that the States that had been excluded from the tableaux selection this year were non-BJP ruled States, the Centre distanced itself from that narrative, offering examples of how the aforementioned States have always had a place of pride in the Rajpath parade for many years now. For instance, Tamil Nadu’s tableau was part of the parades in 2016, 2017, 2019, 2020 and 2021. Similarly, Kerala’s tableau was selected in 2018 and 2021 while West Bengal had the distinction of parading its tableau in 2016, 2017, 2019 and 2021.
While it might be fair to assume that the decision of the expert committee which finalises the selection of tableaux, have their reasons for accepting or rejecting a proposal, some of the observations made by this said committee also offer food for thought for all of us. For starters, reportedly seven sketches were presented by the Tamil Nadu government on the theme of Tamil Nadu in the Freedom Struggle. This included a design of a ship flanked by the likeness of freedom fighter VO Chidambaram (VOC), who is also known as Kappalottiya Tamizhan. VOC was the founder of the Swadeshi Steam Navigation Company, an indigenous enterprise, which was one of the pioneering firms competing against the British. One of the committee members of this expert panel had actually questioned the Tamil Nadu government’s officials if VOC was a businessman or trader.
Members of the panel had also expressed reservations on the portrayal of queen Veeramangai Velu Nachiyar of Sivaganga astride a white horse. The ruler was the first queen to fight the British, but the committee felt she looked more like Rani Lakshmibai of Jhansi, and suggested adding ‘local’ features to her face to make her look more like a Tamilian, while adding that her horse could be made brown. Similarly, the design involving the Maruthu Brothers, who were the rulers of Sivaganga, and were hung publicly by the British were deemed too harsh for portrayal.
As many as 21 tableaux have been selected for this year’s national parade, from 12 States/Union Territories and nine Union ministries/departments. Needless to say, four among the five poll-bound States including Uttar Pradesh, Uttarakhand, Punjab and Goa have made the cut, barring Manipur. It may be noted that these celebrations are being held even as a pandemic is coasting along the country with record numbers of infections being reported every day. If the Centre’s choice to limit the number of tableaux was made on account of COVID protocols, it might seem like a sensible thing to do. And it might be next to impossible to ensure that a tableau from every State/UT is included in such parades. However, going ahead, it is worth considering a more inclusive way to represent all the states in India and it may not be a bad idea to give the decades-old Republic Day parade a refreshed format.

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