CHENNAI: The crowd at the 68th Republic Day celebrations on Kamarajar Salai was sparse with people deciding to stay away from the parade following a week-long Jallikattu agitation on the Marina Beach.
“The crowd was not even 5 per cent of what it was in the previous years. Last time, lakhs of people had come to celebrate the Republic Day, but this time, as you can see, there is no one here,” said Raja, a flag and tri-colour merchandise seller, who had managed to make record sales each succeeding year and was sitting with hundreds of unsold lapel-pin flags this time.
On the eve of Republic Day, Marina Beach had become a desert after the Police evicted thousands of protesters. For two days, the Police maintained strict vigil and enforced blockades at entry points to the Beach. Although security arrangements were tight for the celebrations, the task for the Police was made simple because the traffic was lesser than what they had expected, according to a policeman.
“Even though I was a protester yesterday, I am here to show my patriotism today,” said Ashwin Irudayarajan, who was one of the few protesters who chose to participate in the celebrations. “I could’ve watched the event on TV but I am here,” he added.
The Police had made several announcements at the beach asking the protesters to vacate the area for Republic Day preparations. “The crowd was evacuated just in time. After what happened, many youngsters I know didn’t want to return. Many youngsters were denied entry,” said Deenadayal, an engineer from Mylapore.
Ashwin Irudayarajan said that he was detained at a police station for wearing a black T-shirt while protesting on the Marina Beach. On the Republic Day, he was asked to keep his dark coloured handkerchief with the Police and collect it after the event.
Ashwin sports a man-bun – long hair tied into a bun at the back of his head. “The policeman at the checkpoint literally touched it and accused me of being a rogue. He assumed that a young man having a man-bun is a rogue and that he would wave his dark coloured handkerchief in the air in protest,” said Ashwin. “Why will people attend Republic Day celebrations when the Police do this?”
On asked if people’s non-attendance at the celebrations was a form of protest, Vignesh Ramanan said, “Republic Day is unrelated to Jallikattu. Most people are still patriotic. People forget protests easily but celebrate Republic Day every year. Many are here. Shows patriotism, right?”