Every year in the days leading up to January 26, news headlines are scattered with lists of states whose tableaux have been rejected from participating in the Republic Day parade held in the national capital.
This year, only will participate due to “limited time and space”. The august list of those not selected includes Kerala, West Bengal and Tamil Nadu, and all three chief ministers promptly wrote to the centre in protest.
Tamil Nadu’s float featured freedom fighter VO Chidambaranar Pillai, or VOC, standing in a boat; a fort with Rani Velu Nachiyar; and other leaders like Bharatiyar, the Maruthu Pandiyar brothers, and Kodi Kaatha Kumaran. It was designed by a three-member team from Addyz Designz, a private company in Chennai’s Valasaravakkam.
“We have been working on the designs for a month now,” said Michael G of Addyz Designz. “It is disheartening that the tableau is rejected by the centre.”
The selection committee is formed under the ministry of defence. It comprises nine to 11 members from fields like cinematography, choreography, art direction and music direction.
According to a source in the Tamil Nadu government’s department of information and public relations, a member of the selection committee said, “Isn’t VO Chidambaranar Pillai a businessman? Why is he portrayed among the freedom fighters?”
VOC was a lawyer, a member of the Indian National Congress, and as “the most important” of those standing against British rule. As Michael from Addyz Designz said, “Isn’t a regional leader a national leader too? Should we not celebrate such leaders from every state?”
This year, the source said the committee also allegedly took issue to the tableau’s inclusion of an associate of Bharatiyar whom the committee mistook for former chief minister M Karunanidhi.
Additionally, the committee allegedly asked why Rani Velu Nachiyar, a queen from Sivaganga, “looked like Jhansi Rani” – perhaps expecting the queen to be dressed in stereotypical Tamil attire.
The source claimed the committee offered suggestions, such as “prioritising” Bharatiyar over Pillai. The state government was willing to make these changes and appeared before the selection committee three times.
Tamil Nadu was not called for the fourth meeting. Its proposal had been rejected.
Chief minister MK Stalin then wrote to prime minister Narendra Modi, calling the decision “unacceptable”.
Now, the Tamil Nadu government is preparing four tableaux, all based on the original design, to be showcased at the state’s Republic Day celebrations in Chennai.
Arunkumar S, a member of the DMK’s student wing, said the contributions of VOC to the freedom movement were second to none. “His understanding of fighting the British economically is very deep and meaningful,” he said. “He played an instrumental role in the 1908 Coral Mill workers protest and evolved into a champion of workers’ rights and made sincere efforts form workers unions.”
While 2022 is the 75th year of Indian independence, it’s also the 150th birth anniversary of VOC and the 100th death anniversary of Bharatiyar.
“The committee must have taken all this into account before rejecting TN's design,” said VN Annadurai, deputy director of the information and public relations department.
Arunkumar added, “It's pathetic that people with no basic knowledge of the Indian freedom struggle and could identify VOC only as a businessman are deemed experts and given the responsibility of selecting tableaux. On any given day, designs with VOC, Narayana Guru and Subhas Chandra Bose should be selected over designs like Ayodhya Temple and Hanuman.”
Now, four floats
On January 24, Newslaundry visited Chennai’s Lady Willingdon College, where a group of artists, sculptors and designers were busy working on the four proposed floats for the Republic Day parade.
Work in progress at Lady Willingdon College.
The first float, titled “Mangala Isai”, will feature schemes introduced by the current DMK government, landmarks like Valluvarkottam and the Tamil Nadu Eyal Isai Nataka Manram, and performances by Bharatnatyam and Nadhaswaram artists.
The second will portray the grandeur of the Vellore fort and Kalaya temple, alongside freedom fighters like Rani Velu Nachiyar and Veerapandiya Kattabomman. The third will have VOC and Bharatiyar, and the fourth state leaders.
One sculptor anxiously glanced at the overcast sky and summoned workers to move the statues of Periyar, K Kamaraj and C Rajagopalachari to the shade. All three will be part of the fourth float alongside Muthuramalingam Thevar, Quaid-e-Millat and JC Kumarappa.
“Leaders across all regions and religions are included in the four floats,” said Annadurai. (See video below.)
Sculptor S Srinivasan, who had designed the arch for Karunadhi’s memorial and the horse for Jayalalithaa’s memorial, both located on Chennai’s Marina Beach, has been roped in to participate in the process.
“Creating the floats of national importance in such a short time is a challenging yet exciting task,” Srinivasan told Newslaundry.
At least 300 workers are also hard at work, operating across three shifts to get the job done. The college campus is manned by two dog squads, 15 Tamil Nadu cops, and 10 personnel from the bomb disposal squad.
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