But, why beat the Retreat?
A huge controversy and rightly so has erupted over the arbitrary cancellation of Beating Retreat ceremony following the death of former President, R. Venkataraman. It is obvious that the government has taken this decision based on some sort of precedent or faulty interpretation of an outdated rule by a Section Officer in either the Home Ministry or the Defence Ministry with which all senior Babus concurred and ordered the cancellation of the Retreat, which formally marks the end of Republic Day celebrations.
There are several ways of looking at this controversy. One would be that Venkataraman was the supreme commander of armed forces and therefore his demise should automatically lead to cancellation of such events. Being a former President he is entitled to a state mourning and when the Flag is flying at half-mast how can the celebrations continue or how can any official entertainment be justified.
Another way of viewing this would be that the country and the Nation is larger than any individual. The death of an individual should affect no national celebration such as Republic Day or the Independence Day and the cancellation of the celebrations if they have to be ordered should be in extreme cases and in exceptional circumstances alone. Beating Retreat normally marks the musical end to the celebrations and is a carryover of the old tradition where at the end of day’s battle, feuding armies would Retreat by sounding Bugles so that soldiers could pay homage to their colleagues and also collect their bodies. In the modern day, the Republic Day celebrations in India are concluded when bands drawn from various
military outfits compete and entertain while bringing down a ceremonial closure to the celebrations. Therefore there is a strong case for the show to go on.
There is also another view that Venkataraman was a former President and not a sitting one and therefore to cancel a major national celebration was not appropriate. He belonged to the old school and would have been happier if the Beating Retreat, which he himself had witnessed several times as a Cabinet minister and subsequently as President, would have taken place. After all the saying is that King is Dead and Long live the King, which shows continuity and not a break.
Yet another way of looking at things is that in Hindu society when a person dies at the age of 98 you celebrate his life and not mourn it. In several parts of India, the funeral procession of old people is taken out with the coffin or the wooden plank on which the body is placed being decorated with balloons and paper mache. A band playing happy tunes accompanies the body till it gets cremated and people express joy that a person who has lived a full life has gone into the other world. Venkatarman indeed had a full life
and was not the sitting president. His life should have been celebrated by the county and not mourned. He did not go prematurely like say Rajiv Gandhi or even Indira Gandhi amongst Prime Ministers and Zakir Hussain amongst Presidents and the official stance about mourning seems slightly outdated and out of place.
But than governments work in the manner in which they do and if confronted with these kinds of arguments would come out with some ridiculous explanation. The short point is that we all have the highest respect for R.Venkataraman but his death should not have disrupted our national celebrations. Military bands had prepared for the event for many months and people from all over the country had come to watch the spectacle.
Crores had been spent on the run up and the lighting of the national buildings was a big burden on the exchequer. As it is India is low on spirit of nationalism and needs to inculcate this spirit in a very big way.
A show of unity after 26/11 is not enough. It has to be consistent as it is in the case of Americans who take great pride in their nationalism. We must salute our country first. Individuals always follow later.