Border Stand-Off, Pandemic & Prolonged Farmers’ Protest Could Dampen India’s Republic Day Spirits

India will celebrate its 72nd Republic Day in the shadows of a global pandemic, a prolonged border stand-off with China, and a months-long farmers’ agitation in the national capital. If that were not enough, there will be no chief guest at this year’s Republic Day parade, the first time in 55 years — enough indication that it will be a low-key affair.

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This will be the fourth time in the history of independent India that the federal government will hold Republic Day functions without a chief guest. Earlier, the aberration was noticed in 1952, 1953, and 1966.

British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who was supposed to attend this year’s function as chief guest, canceled his visit at the last minute owing to a sharp rise in the Covid-19 cases back home. 

The UK had reported a new variant of the Coronavirus earlier this month. “Prime Minister said that it was important for him to remain in the UK so he can focus on the domestic response to the virus,” a Downing Street Spokesperson was quoted as saying by the media.

The UK variant of the virus is deadlier than the one that infected the rest of the countries. This was revealed last week by none other than Johnson himself, sending shockwaves globally. India has so far recorded nearly 150 UK variant cases. Otherwise, the country is witnessing a steady decline in the Covid-19 cases and the first phase of vaccination has been rolled out.

A Military Show Amid Border Standoff

The Republic Day parade is all about displaying India’s military might. This year’s event will be held amid the ongoing military standoff with China at the Ladakh border. Six months ago, 20 Indian soldiers were killed in a violent clash with the Chinese PLA in Galwan Valley in Eastern Ladakh. Since then, the two armies have stood eye-to-eye, keeping air and ground vigil in the landlocked Himalayan region.

On Sunday, the two sides concluded 15-hour-long talks aimed at ending the border logjam though the outcome is not yet known. The military commander-level meeting was held at Moldo on the Chinese side of the Line of Actual Control, the de facto border.

The PLA reportedly pulled out almost 10,000 soldiers from depth areas to rear positions, but the Indian side has not revealed any figure regarding the repositioning of its troops. However, both sides have stayed put in strategic positions. For instance, the Indian Army has not moved an inch from the key heights on the southern bank of Pangong Tso ever since they recaptured them.

Meanwhile, there were reports of a fresh clash between the two armies at Naku La in Sikkim. According to Times Now, the incident took place three days ago when the PLA troops tried to intrude inside Indian territory. The Indian Army foiled their intrusion bid, leading to a fight, in which soldiers from both sides were suffered injuries.

Many Firsts At R-Day Parade

For the first time, the parade will see the participation of two contingents from the Bangladesh armed forces. A 122-member team from the neighboring country, India’s all-weather ally, has taken part in the full-dress rehearsal and is getting ready for the big day. Notably, India had extended military support to the Bangladesh Liberation War in 1971, something Dhaka gives utmost importance to. 

A senior Bangladeshi army officer told Times of India that this was not only an emotional moment for them but a chance to express “gratitude and respect to all those Indian military personnel who sacrificed their lives for the liberation” of Bangladesh.  

India had lost nearly 3,900 soldiers and as many as 10,000 were injured in the 1971 war, which it won decisively, bringing Pakistan to its knees. 

In addition, this year’s Republic Day parade will have troops deployed in the Andaman and Nicobar Islands. The islands house India’s only tri-services command. It was established in 2001 to safeguard India’s strategic interest in the Indian Ocean Region.

Protest Rallies

Overall, this year’s functions will be a low-key affair given that the Narendra Modi government has been fighting multiple battles on the domestic front. While the government is trying to put a brave face, one could see the government’s predicament. On one hand, it is making an all-out effort to bring the Covid-battered economy back on track, on the other, a months-long farmers’ agitation in the national capital has put the ruling dispensation in a fix.

To make matters worse, the farmers have threatened to take out a tractor rally on January 26 although Delhi Police have not given them permission for the same. The farmers, largely from Punjab and neighboring states, have stayed put on border points near Delhi after multiple rounds of discussions with the government failed to break the impasse over the controversial farm laws.

The agitating farmers want the three legislations repealed, but the Modi government was in no mood to do the same. Instead, the latter has offered to keep the laws on hold for 18 months. 

Besides Delhi, thousands of farmers from across Maharashtra reached Mumbai, India’s financial capital, on Sunday evening to participate in a rally. The opposition has thrown its weight behind the farming community and accused the government of trying to destroy India’s agriculture sector. 

The nation-wide agitation raises one pertinent question – that when India celebrates its 72nd Republic Day – to honor the date, January 26, 1950, on which the Indian Constitution came into effect — everyone should remember the contribution made by the farmers to keep the country alive and kicking.

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