A tradition discontinued over 20 years ago could be revived at the Beating Retreat ceremony later this month if President Pranab Mukherjee opts against his armoured limousine and uses the traditional gold-plated presidential buggy instead. The buggy is being used for the rehearsals but sources in Rashtrapati Bhavan say a final call on whether Mukherjee will make an appearance in it on January 29 will be taken only a day in advance.
“The buggy is being used for the rehearsals. But there are security considerations that have to be kept in mind before we decide whether the President will use it to actually go for Beating Retreat. That decision will only be taken one day in advance,” said a senior Rashtrapati Bhavan official.
Mukherjee has been using the buggy to move around the Rashtrapati Bhavan campus from the very beginning of his tenure. Over the last two decades, the president has been driving to the Beating Retreat ceremony at Vijay Chowk in his or her armoured car, escorted as usual by the mounted President’s Bodyguards. Rashtrapati Bhavan sources could not say for certain who was the last president to have used the buggy at the ceremony but are sure this has not happened for at least two decades.
The Beating Retreat dates back to 16th century England when troops were called back inside the castle at sunset but in India it denotes the official end of the Republic Day festivities. The buggy itself has a history of its own. At the time of Partition, regiments under the Governor General’s Bodyguards (now known as the President’s Bodyguards) were divided in a 2:1 ratio.
However when it came to the viceroy’s buggy, neither country was willing to give up its claim. Partition anecdote has it that the first commandant of the GGBG and his Muslim deputy (who went on to join the Pakistani forces) tossed a coin, and India won the buggy.
There was a time when the buggy was used for all ceremonial occasions. The president also used it to move around inside his 320-acre estate. As security concerns mounted over the years, appearances in the buggy for functions came to be limited to the President’s arrival, after swearing-in formalities, at Rashtrapati Bhavan. The stable reserved for the buggy horses fell into disuse and now there is a plan to make a museum chronicling the history of Rashtrapati Bhavan in that space.
The buggy, though, has made something of a comeback since the time Mukherjee took over. One of the many traditions he revived is of using the buggy to tour the estate, say sources.