Opposition-ruled states critical of the Citizenship Amendment Act (CAA) are aiming their guns at the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government in the Centre after a committee rejected their tableaux for the Republic Day parade.
The Union Defence Ministry included floats from 16 states, keeping out proposals from Kerala, West Bengal, Maharashtra, and Bihar, all of which have been critical of the CAA. Eight of the states that will be represented this time are governed by the BJP or NDA allies, four by the UPA, and the rest by others.
Every year, state governments send their proposals to the Centre for inclusion of their floats in the parade and these are evaluated by eminent persons in the fields of art, culture, painting, sculpture, music, and architecture, according to the ministry, which oversees the march along Rajpath. The panel judges the proposed floats on the basis of theme, concept, design, and visual impact while sending its recommendations to the ministry.
Critics say that in practice, it is apparent that the BJP has been playing tableau politics.
Following the latest row over the exclusion of some tableaux, the government of Prime Minister Narendra Modi immediately said that due to time constraints, only a limited number of tableaux can be short-listed for participation in the parade, and that there were no political considerations in the selection process.
Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro has been invited to be the chief guest at the parade this year.
Modi’s home state, Gujarat, will be included. Ever since his party came to power, both in Gujarat and at the Centre, the tableau of Gujarat has never been rejected.
In the past, states have fumed silently over being excluded. This time, however, they have been vocal, partly because of what they see as Modi’s intolerance of any criticism of his policies.
In Kerala, the Communist Party of India (Marxist) said the BJP had kept it out of the parade for three years in a row. This year’s theme was the religious dance Theyyam, which includes dancers in red masks and costumes. The screening committee initially objected because of the preponderance of red in the tableau, even after officials explained Theyyam. Subsequently, the state government revised the decoration to soften it by including pictures of various dances and martial arts of the state. Wags said the BJP government was evidently seeing red over the float.
Kerala Law Minister AK Balan described Delhi’s decision as politically motivated. Kerala is the only state to have passed a resolution in the state legislature opposing the CAA. Chief Minister Pinarayi Vijayan has said his Communist coalition will not implement the Act.
“I don’t understand why there is hatred towards Kathakali, Mohiniyattam, Chenda (drums),” said Balan. “Have you ever seen a central government that is against federalism in our country, that attacks the Malayali and gets into a frenzy when it hears the word Kerala? One of the leaders even asked if Malayalis have two horns. So, this is an idea of the present state of our country. We are not supposed to show backwaters, elephants, boats, Mohiniyattam or Kathakali. What is this crazy situation we are going into?”
In Maharashtra, the governing coalition of Shiv Sena and the Nationalist Congress Party (NCP) slammed the Centre for rejecting its proposal too. NCP leader and Member of Parliament Supriya Sule accused the Centre of being prejudiced, calling the government move an ‘insult’ to the people of the state. Maharashtra’s tableaux were rejected nine times in the past, twice after the BJP came to power.
The most vocal critic this time has been West Bengal Chief Minister Mamata Banerjee. Officials in Kolkata say that in the past 34 years, the Centre had rejected their offers several times, but the Communist state governments had ignored them. Mamata, however, has spewed fire on Modi. Her Trinamul Congress described the Centre’s decision as an insult to the people of West Bengal.
West Bengal Minister for Parliamentary Affairs Tapas Roy said, “Just because West Bengal has been opposing the anti-people policies of the BJP government, step-motherly treatment is being meted out to the state. In 2017 too, Mamata expressed her annoyance with the NDA government after a tableau highlighting national unity was rejected.
(G Krishnan has worked in Indian and international publications for 40 years, writing on a variety of subjects)