ISSN (Print) - 0012-9976 | ISSN (Online) - 2349-8846

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The Republic and Respect

As a mix of institutional formality and universal emotional succour, the Republic Day parade offers an opportunity to deconstruct the body language of India’s leaders.

If diplomacy is all about tokenisms and language, then diplomacy-watching for amateurs is certainly all about studying body language. Much has been made of US President Barack Obama and Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s meetings in India, when the former was in India as chief guest for India’s Republic Day. Modi’s effusive hug to Obama after receiving him at the airport was seen as a new turn in the India–US relationship, and their comfortable camaraderie was also read as a harkening of a new nuclear deal, even before the deal was actually discussed.

What then were the signals to be read at this year’s Republic Day, India’s enduring symbol of military might? Any p­arade — and particularly India’s Republic Day parade — is a peculiar thing. It is meant to uphold a certain stiffness and protocol: soldiers marching in perfect synchronous array hardly seem to call for anything but the onlooker’s discipline of rapt attention, respect and, perhaps, formality. But the parade is also meant to be a living, colourful and expressive means to nurture national pride. This pride, or patriotism, is arguably different from — or more than — restrictive formality.

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