The state government’s decision to shift the Republic Day parade venue from Shivaji Park and give it a backdrop of the city’s sea-scape at Marine Drive saw at least three security agencies disagreeing on finer details, from security to parade protocol, till the final dress rehearsal Friday.
The new location, a brainchild of protocol minister Suresh Shetty, was chosen to raise the level of Republic Day celebrations in the city and give Mumbaikars the feel of the grand parade at Rajpath in New Delhi.
Hitherto, RD parades in Mumbai have always been held at Shivaji Park.
The first impediment in shifting the venue came when the Mumbai police, citing terror threat, gave an adverse report. It took Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar to intervene and convince his NCP colleague and Home Minister RR Patil to finally agree to the change in venue.
The Maharashtra Police, on its part, was irked by the fact that the parade would be led by the Army, which refused to even let a police officer be the second-in-command for the parade.
To make matters worse, the Ministry of Defence rejected the state government’s request to let the Air Force perform for the event. Sources said the request was later routed through the office of the Governor, who also spoke to Defence Minister A K Anthony, but the defence ministry bureaucracy did not budge. Many calls were made to aviation heads and logistics moved to accommodate the request. Choppers, Dorniers and fighters to thunder in the skies at three increasing height levels was the state’s proposal, all of which were shot down by MoD.
But the biggest challenge for Shetty was to get the police on board for shifting the parade venue to Marine Drive. According to a senior police official, Shivaji Park, which has played host for Republic Day parade for two decades, has a proper security protocol in place, which has been fine-tuned with time and experience. Further, unlike Shivaji Park, which is a closed space and offers better threat hindrances with its tree foliage, several buildings of uneven levels and several exits, Marine Drive is open and exposed.
After the police raised an issue over security, Shetty sought Ajit Pawar’s help to bring Home Minister Patil on board.
When everything looked settled between the protocol office and the state police, the issue of leading the parade cropped up. While Navy has been commanding the parade at Shivaji Park, the Army staked its claim this time.
In several meetings to decide on the parade march, the Navy kept asserting that the parade would be commanded by a Naval officer even as the Army stood its ground saying they always commanded the parade. The Army also argued that since their armoured vehicles and mounted columns were to be part of the parade, they would not want any other service to lead them. They even insisted that the second-in-command in the parade would also be an Army officer, much to the ire of police which told the state government that the Marine Drive parade was not a defence programme, but a state programme.
“We work for the state of Maharashtra and its people 365 days a year. It is unfair that we were not even given the status of second-in-command in the parade,” said a police officer.