By any yardstick, the Republic Day (January 26) parade down Delhi’s Rajpath presided by President Ram Nath Kovind and his special guest Brazil’s President Jair Bolsonaro, at which representative contingents of India’s 1.3 million army, navy and air force staged a march past, was a grand spectacle. The hour-long parade featuring generals, admirals and air marshals and their immaculately attired forces marching in perfect formation showcasing impressive military hardware as jets and helicopters criss-crossed Delhi skies, is a spectacle designed to make citizens swell with pride.
Yet post-parade reflection by your choked-up editor raised disturbing questions about the propriety of a nation in which 47 percent of children under age five suffer severe malnutrition and stunting, and which grudgingly hosts 300 million citizens ekeing out miserable lives on $2 (Rs.142) per day to cover food, clothing, shelter, transport, education and healthcare, holding grand parades exhibiting its military prowess. India’s declared annual defence expenditure is Rs.2.09 lakh crore (2019-20), double the Central government’s expenditure on public education and health added together.
At a deeper level India’s huge defence expenditure is reflective of foreign policy and diplomatic failure. Seventy years after independence, successive governments and the over-hyped Indian Foreign Service haven’t been able to bilaterally negotiate the India-China border dispute or the Kashmir issue. The hearts of India’s pampered middle class might swell with pride as military regiments in full regalia march down Rajpath displaying imported hardware which generates employment in manufacturing countries. But the ultimate price of military pomp and show is paid by the Republic’s 300 million poor living on the subsistence line.