Republic Day not as much fun for those living along parade route
For shopkeepers, workers and residents along the route of the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, and for policemen on duty, it’s much less fun than one would imagine
A part of the national capital will be locked up tomorrow, as in past years, so that the ‘spectacle’ of the Republic Day parade on January 26 can be enjoyed. And an unprecedented number of security personnel, possibly the highest ever, will keep a vigil to ensure security. Delhi Metro will be shut down, particular roads blocked and some offices and residences sealed for 18 hours beginning the afternoon of January 25, confining the inmates inside, unless they choose to temporarily vacate the house and stay elsewhere. Strict surveillance is maintained in hotels and guest houses across the capital and, as a journalist who had misplaced his keys and was locked out of his South Delhi home discovered, hotels would not let out rooms to ‘local residents’ till after January 26.
The first full dress rehearsal of the Republic Day parade was held on Monday morning, throwing traffic out of gear even as the entire route—from Vijay Chowk on Rajpath to the Red Fort via Tilak Marg, Bahadur Shah Zafar Marg and Daryaganj—was sanitised and shut down till noon.
The bloodshot eyes of Dharamveer (not his real name) indicated his lack of sleep. The ASI of Delhi Police admitted he was waiting for his reliever and that he had been on duty for the past 18 hours. Since his deployment in Daryaganj was early in the morning and his previous shift ended late in the evening, he chose not to return home, he said.
Slouching on a plastic chair on a part of the pavement, he was desperately trying to have a nap while ignoring the chaos around him after the route was opened to the public. Shopkeepers were scrambling to open their shops, car drivers were impatiently honking to get past others and the milling crowd rushed around, oblivious to the policeman half-asleep on the chair.
Posted at Hauz Qazi police station in Chawri Bazar, he would have little respite till the Republic Day gets over. The three-four days preceding the Republic Day has always been like this, he says, with touching pride. In the uniformed force, he declared, they had to be on their toes and alert 24x7.
But curiously, while money flows like water in making arrangements for the pageant, the ASI confided that policemen are neither provided any food, snacks or tea, nor paid any allowance for the day. They have to make their own arrangements, he said, because it was part of their duty. The ASI loyally refused to complain. “We all must cooperate, it’s a national festival after all,” he added. Did one detect a trace of sarcasm or a lack of enthusiasm?
Next to Golcha cinema in Daryaganj, hardware shop owner Amarjeet Singh had few buyers to deal with. “Security has been doubled and people’s movement restricted. All shops and showrooms on the route of the parade go through security check. We all close our shops at 2 pm on January 25 and open them on January 27 morning,” he points out. Shops remain shut during the full dress rehearsal as well.
Amarjeet Singh, owner of a hardware shop in Daryaganj next to Golcha cinema, had few buyers to deal with. “Security has been doubled and people’s movement restricted. All shops and showrooms on the route of the parade go through security check. We all close our shops at 2 pm on January 25 and open them on January 27 morning,” he points out. Shops remained shut during the full dress rehearsal as well.
Snipers take over the rooftops, shops and houses on the route are sealed and metal detectors positioned at all entry and exit points. Special forces from the BSF and CISF patrol the area. Pointing to a notice by Delhi Police seeking people’s cooperation and specifying hours when the locality would be shut down, Singh exclaims, “We are bound to follow the order but it was never like this. This is my family business. We have been running this shop for the last 20 years but I do not remember this sort of frisking, security and closure in the past.”
On Monday, January 23, the green seal was just about everywhere in the area. It was pasted on manholes, on unoccupied houses and commercial plots, gates in the locality and on branches and tree trunks. They all bore the date and a line confirming, “Security check sealed,” dated on “23rd January 2017.”
Residents claimed that the seal and its colour would undergo a change the day before the Republic Day after another round of security check.
“This happens before Independence Day as well. We have to submit names of employees who would be working in the building. They are then issued a special pass by police for that day after verification,” confided the head of security at one of the many office blocks around ITO.
Curiously, while money flows like water in making arrangements for the pageant, the ASI confided that policemen are neither provided any food, snacks or tea nor paid any allowance for the day. They have to make their own arrangements, he said, because it was part of their duty. The ASI loyally refused to complain. “We all must cooperate, it’s a national festival after all,” he added
Close to the ruins of Delhi Gate, Ahmad was reading an evening newspaper when this reporter approached him. “Considering the threat perception, increased security does give us confidence but sometimes the heightened security can be an irritant. Even medical stores are shut down in the area, which may not be necessary,” he points out.
In his late sixties now, he has watched the Republic grow. And he makes no secret of the fact that he misses the fun in the early years of the Republic. “It used to be a real celebration. Halwais would open their shops in the morning and we would celebrate the day with hot jalebi or laddoos,” he recalled with a glint in his eyes.
Security, quipped a senior TV journalist, should be less high-handed and unobtrusive. “It should be intelligence-oriented, sharp, pin-pointed but invisible like in the US and other European countries,” he exclaimed, while recalling that even his office in the INS Building on Rafi Ahmed Kidwai Marg is taken over by security personnel and restrictions imposed. “But when it comes to national security, we have to respect their concern,” he added.