As soon as President Pratibha Patil unfurled the tri-color in the presence of her Indonesian counterpart and the chief guest of the event, four Mi-17 Helicopters showered flower petals from the air signalling the beginning of India’s 62nd Republic Day celebrations.
For the culturally rich India, the Republic Day celebration is a mini-display of the country’s wide cultural diversity. And this time too, it was no different. The celebrations were indeed a sight to behold as colorful tableaux depicting India's equally colorful diversity were showcased in a parade that also included display of military might from all the three wings: Army, Navy and Air-force as well as the technological achievements and ambitions of the country. Be it the huge Rabindranath Tagore statue displayed by the Culture Ministry or the Maharastrian 'Lawani' dancers or the army's showcase of its advanced Brahmos Launcher System, T-90 Bheeshma tanks and Multi Barrel Rocket System 'Pinaka'; the event enthralled all. Thousands were present to witness the celebrations in the chilly morning and thousands of others were glued to their television sets to catch a glimpse of the grand event in the capital of a world power in the making.
There is another side of the picture, though. Despite all the colorful celebrations and the achievements it does boast of, India is still struggling to confront some of the 'darkest' sides of the country. It has come a long way since its constitution was drafted 61 years back. But poverty, corruption, religious tensions, racial discriminations and security threats – both internal and external -- continue to haunt the country of the 1 billion plus.
A 2008 World Bank estimates say, 42 percent of the population depend on a little more than a dollar a day. This makes the country a home to a third of the world's poor. This, obviously, in turn, deprives a large number of population from health and other essential services. Not surprisingly, India carries some of the worst statistics in terms of health as well. The life expectancy is still only 66.46 years old -- much lower from many advanced countries. Infant mortality rate remains at 49.13 per cent. Not a rosy picture either.
The erosion of the rule of law is another headache. The second most populous country in the world also has a dubious distinction of being one of the most crime-infested countries. From petty offences to murders and white color crimes, the problem is rampant from Kashmir to Kanyakumari. The capital, New Delhi, has earned a notoriety for rape.
Frailties of the legal system are thoroughly exposed in places like Mumbai where organized crime is an everyday occurrence. In fact, just two days before the Republic Day, a district collector, who was cracking down on oil mafias was burnt alive near Nashik.
As India talks about development and modernization, it is yet to leave the social practices and taboos prevailing in its societies since centuries behind it. Need proof ? The overall sex ratio of India is 950 women to 1000 men. However, as of the census of 2001, the child sex ratio, the number of girls to every 1000 boys in the age group 0 to 6 is only 927. This has been blamed on abortion of baby girls. In a startling revelation, it has been found that at least 1,370 girls are aborted every year in India. This explains the low birth of females compared to men. At a time when voice for gender equality is growing as ever, discrimination against girls does not augur well for the future of India. Religious tensions, too, is still abound. The Babri Masjid verdict and the response to it showed the prevailing cold vibes between the Hindu and the Muslim community.
The huge display of arms and armors by the its military during the Republic day celebration may be seen as a subtle signal to its neighbors as external security threats show no sign of thawing. Border disputes with traditional rivals, Pakistan, and the rising world power China, are as complicated as they were before. Critics fear that the off and on protests in Kashmir could erupt into a dangerous explosion anytime. Arunachal Pradesh, which China refer to as 'Southern Tibet', remains a source of tension. Adding to the problem is the Maoist violence which, going by the accounts of the officials themselves, is gaining momentum. It was not for nothing that the prime minister Man Mohan Singh termed the leftist insurgency as the 'greatest internal security threat' -- forty years after it hit the world’s largest democracy. strong action was needed to solve it.
Just as the flying helicopters showered beautiful petals on the Republic Day in the capital, the expectations are that the country would march towards a rosy road to become another world power. But with rampant corruption and insecurity threatening to tear apart the system, frustrations are running deep. Will the political leaders be able to stand up and rise to the occasion to allay doubts about their capability and intent? It’s anyody’s guess.