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Editorial: Seeking a Republic sans jingoism

Just a few days ago, an example of unsolicited nationalism was exhibited, when a development concerning the Beating the Retreat ceremony, which is part of the Republic Day observances, was announced.

Editorial: Seeking a Republic sans jingoism
Indian Flag

New Delhi

As India celebrates its 73rd Republic Day, it is pertinent to consider the ideals of this nation that have been enshrined in our Constitution, supposedly the longest written constitution of any nation. The document declares India as a sovereign, socialist, secular and democratic republic and it underscores the notion – of the people, by the people and for the people. Yet, amidst the fanfare surrounding India’s status as one of the linchpins of democracy, a narrative is being drafted to rewrite the codes of secularism, that courses through the blood veins into the beating heart of India.

Just a few days ago, an example of unsolicited nationalism was exhibited, when a development concerning the Beating the Retreat ceremony, which is part of the Republic Day observances, was announced. Abide with Me, a hymn which marks the end of the Beating the Retreat ceremony, and is part of a centuries old military tradition, has been dropped from this year’s programme. The solemn hymn which was a favourite of Mahatma Gandhi, and was written by a Scottish Anglican Henry Francis Lyte as he lay dying of tuberculosis, signalled in military parlance, the end of the battle for the day.

In place of Abide with Me, the famous Hindi patriotic song, Ae Mere Watan Ke Logon will be played at this year’s ceremony. The choice was made, as per sources, on account of the Centre’s need to include a maximum number of Indian tunes to the ceremony. This year, as part of celebrating 75 years of independence with the Azadi Ka Amrit Mahotsav, the government has planned on including only Indian-origin tunes to commemorate the occasion. This change involving the hymn was made in the immediate aftermath of the decision to shift the Amar Jawan Jyoti from India Gate to the National War Memorial. This is not the first time that the hymn has run into trouble with the Centre. In 2020, attempts had been made to remove Abide with Me from the Beating the Retreat ceremony. Following widespread backlash, that decision was put on hold, only to be implemented this time around.

Government sources had reportedly said the move was in line with phasing out of cultural vestiges of a colonial nature, in order to include elements that would strike a deeper, more resonant and relatable chord with the people. Twitter did not take kindly to these developments as members of the Opposition lashed out at the Centre for these efforts to rewrite India’s colonial heritage. TMC MP Derek O’Brien was among those who expressed his reservations on the move, stating he had rarely heard the hymn being sung in a chapel.

Senior military personnel have also taken exception to this measure arguing that a majority of traditions upheld by the Indian Armed Forces find their origins in the customs of the British forces. It might be hard to understand how the substitution of a Christian hymn with a Hindi patriotic song, and that too after a period of seven decades could spur patriotism among the countrymen. But then, questions on similar lines could be asked even with regard to the nation’s new Central Vista project, which aims to provide India with a brand new Parliament House.

Far from the high corridors of New Delhi, such microaggressions of white-washing that wish away important aspects of our history are being carried out on State-wide levels. In Uttar Pradesh, the town Allahabad was renamed Prayagraj. Administrative hassles aside, such moves are a clear indicator of how the will of the majority is now being employed to silence the voice of the minority – a phenomenon that is addressed in the Constitution.

India as a republic is not about singular communities or silos working in isolation. The idea of a Republic that was earned after much hardship and sacrifice must not be squandered away in the pursuit of an exercise that amounts to little more than jingoism.

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