In what could be a major step towards shedding the colonial hangover, recent reports suggest that the Defence Ministry has dropped the Christian hymn, Abide with me from the list of tunes to be played at the Beating Retreat on January 29 this year. The Beating Retreat, which is the last event in the Republic Day celebrations and marks their culmination, has traditionally concluded with the Abide with me hymn.
If sources quoted by various media outlets are to be believed, Vande Mataram, India’s National Song, is likely to replace Abide with me. A defence ministry source, speaking on the condition of anonymity has been quoted as saying, “The tune has been dropped this year.” He added, “There is a review of tunes every year. There is an effort to introduce new tunes and an emphasis to add more Indian tunes.”
According to The Print, the tunes for Beating the Retreat ceremony are decided by the ceremonial and welfare directorate under Adjutant General’s branch of the Army headquarters, in consultation with the Ministry of Defence. The latter’s decision prevails with regard to selection of tunes.
The likely move of dropping Abide with me and playing Vande Mataram instead is largely in line with Modi government’s sustained efforts of getting out of the colonial hangover and Indianising the Republic Day celebrations, including the 45-minute long Beating the Retreat ceremony.
It was in the year 2015, it was for the first time in India’s history that classical Indian instruments were played alongside the colonial-era military bands at Beating the Retreat ceremony. Classical instruments like the sitar, santoor and tabla debuted at the major ceremony, which marks the culmination of the Republic Day celebrations.
Last year, the ‘Shankhnaad’, first original martial tune of independent India was played during the Republic Day parade in place of the martial tune which has been played since the colonial days. The tune glorifies the achievements and contribution of the Mahar Regiment.
In 2018, Beating the Retreat ceremony marked a big change as 25 out of 26 tunes played by bands of the Army, Navy Air Force, and Central Armed Police Forces at the ceremony were composed by Indians, and the only Western tune played at the iconic ceremony was Abide with me. Now, this Christian hymn too seems all set to be dropped from the Beating the Retreat ceremony.
It must be mentioned here that Abide with me has been played at every Beating the Retreat ceremony since 1950. The Nehruvian era that immediately followed the colonial era never really had the political will to dismantle the colonial legacy. Successive Congress governments never made even a half-hearted attempt at Indianisation. It is only after the Modi government came to power that there are clear indications of a thorough Indianisation of the Republic Day celebrations, including Beating the Retreat ceremony, as India successfully steers its way out of the colonial era hangover.