Doordarshan's Republic Day Parade broadcast gave us much background information regarding our gallantry award winners but it forgot to focus on some other heroes at Rajpath - the viewing public who managed the awe-inspiring feat of procuring the parade tickets. Here's the story of what it takes to make it to Rajpath on 26 January.
Having a quiz to attend in Delhi on 22 and 23 January, I spotted an opportunity to extend my stay and watch the Republic Day Parade live at Rajpath. When I asked around for the procedure to get a ticket, I soon realised that the only advice that everyone (even the otherwise loquacious breed of Delhiites) had was to get a pass by contacting influential bureaucrats. I was often told, "Ticket line se nahi, pehchan se milti hai (You get tickets not from a queue but through contacts)."
Though I discreetly enquired of my friends if they knew these pass-bearing influential persons, I refused to believe that this underhanded method could be the only feasible way to obtain passes. I searched the internet to find out how I could lay my hands on the tickets being sold to the public at large.
The Press Information Bureau had no useful release regarding the sale of 2015 R-Day Parade tickets. The only available press release merely stated that tickets are still available at the "designated sale counters" without any mention of where these were.Media articles were just as vague.
Finally I thought I had struck gold when I found a 2007 press release detailing the locations where the tickets were available. However, when I turned up at the Gandhi Ashram in Chandni Chowk (which isn't really an ashram at all but a khadi store) I was told that the press release I was relying upon was hopelessly outdated and that no tickets were available there. The store attendants suggested that we go to the government's tourist office at 88 Janpath.
Having wasted my time once, I decided to call the tourist office at Janpath only to discover that the Delhi Tourism website lists only a seven-digit phone number for its Janpath office which is obviously an incomplete number and cannot be dialled.
Hearing from a friend that tickets are usually available at Parliament House, I dialled the reception where the very helpful receptionist explained to me that the Ministry of Defence personnel selling the tickets had shut shop and left an hour early as 23 January was the last day of sale there.
Hearing my side of this phone conversation, a helpful aam admi on the metro informed me that tickets were being sold at Pragati Maidan. Upon reaching Pragati Maidan Gate No. 1 the next afternoon (after being thoroughly fleeced by auto drivers) I was delighted to at least see a ticket sale counter in existence. The joy was short lived though, since the official manning the counter told me that the daily quota of Republic Day parade tickets was sold out and that I could only buy tickets for the Beating Retreat programme. He asked me to return at 8am the next morning (25 January) to buy the coveted Rs 300 tickets which apparently give one the right to reserved seating. What I did not know was that he had left out some key details.
The next morning, I braved the freezing weather (at least to my Mumbai body) and made it to the Pragati Maidan counter at 8.15am only to find a long queue of at least 50 well-equipped ticket seekers laughing at the sorry figure I cut. I had neither a warm jacket or hat nor the required documentation. The kind souls in the queue told me that the guy at the counter was issuing the reserved tickets only to those who had a photocopy of an identity card. So I walked for 1 ½ km each way and returned with a photocopy of my driving license. It was 9am by then and the counter was still not open. While I was wondering why the person at the counter didn't tell me the ID card requirement the previous day, the people around me had even more surprising details to share. On an average it was the second or third purchase attempt for everybody in the line. I was also told that even upon having ID, a person could buy only one reserved ticket meaning that I would not be able to purchase any for my quiz partners who were patriotic enough to want to watch the Parade live but not enough to go hunting for tickets.
While we were waiting for the counter to open, Delhi Traffic Police and CRPF personnel made their appearance in large numbers and briskly informed us that the counter would not open until 1pm and that we had to clear the area in an hour. When half an hour passed without anyone believing the police, the cops could be heard murmuring to anyone who asked them "Please chale jiye warna danda marke bhagana padega (Please leave otherwise we may have to chase you away with sticks)."
When clearing the sidewalks of the road which the American President plans to take to Raj Ghat takes precedence over selling Republic Day tickets to patriotic Indians, that is the point when you realise how apt the tourism slogan is. India is truly incredible.
Upon the police officer's suggestion, I decided to try my luck at Jantar Mantar where apparently the second of these mysterious ticket sale counters was located. I stopped enroute in Connaught Place to grab brunch and buy a sweater. The mission to acquire tickets was taking significantly longer than I expected it to.
As I walked towards Jantar Mantar, I could barely see its entrance or the ticket counter. All I could see was a mass of humanity, certainly numbering in the hundreds, in what might (or might not) pass for a queue. I dutifully joined it. However after the queue did not move for a few minutes, I decided to investigate. I was surprised to discover that a couple of hundred people had been queuing for two hours on the vague promise that more tickets might arrive soon. I was wondering whether to join this hopeful exercise when the Indian bureaucracy threw its final and fatal hurdle in my path. At the counter there was a small notice which stated, "Only Aadhaar Card and Election Card shall be accepted as ID proof." Since the only identity document that I was carrying to Delhi was a driving license, I finally admitted defeat in the face of these arbitrary and ever-changing ticket requirements.
I am trying to convince myself that I did not miss much since the gods literally rained on our parade. However, I can't shake of the feeling that a celebration to commemorate the day when we adopted the ideal of equality as a nation should not just be available to the elite with contacts. The ticket sale process definitely needs to be made transparent and publicised, if not reformed and opened to people apart from Delhiites with enough free time to decipher the maze of designated counters.