NEW DELHI: Many military veterans are unimpressed with the changes made to the Beating the Retreat format this year. Unimpressed is perhaps an understatement—many are seething with rage to see “squatting tabalchis”, “hip-swinging drummers”, and “Bollywood-style trumpeteers”.
“I am ashamed to say and depressed to see that despite my public objection to the changing of the format two years ago, things have only got worse,” said Lieutenant General Vijay Oberoi (Retd), the former director general of military operations, Indian Army.
He was echoed by Major Karun Khanna (Retd), a veteran of 1965 and 1971 wars: “I am ashamed that the armed forces allowed this tamasha. Is this a Retreat? It is ridiculous!”
Khanna was the inter-services coordinator for the ceremony from 1974 to 1976. “Today it has been reduced to a nautanki! Unrecognisable music, out of tune and disrespectful to the solemnity of a Retreat,” he said.
Keen watchers of matters military say the format has been been changing since the last few years. “For the worse, I would say. Bringing sitar, tabla, violin are all fine for shows or concerts. Not a military parade. The Retreat is a parade. It has dignity and sanctity. You cannot reduce it to a tamasha,” Oberoi said.
Lieutenant Colonel Manoj Channan (Retd) of the armoured corps said a “solemn military ceremony has been reduced to band, baaja, baraat”.
The changes have been made as part of what is unofficially being called an “Indianisation” process.
“This shows a lack of understanding of India’s own military traditions. Those who want to change things believe the Retreat is a British tradition. But the Mahabharata war used to end every day with the sounding of the conches. At forts, garrisons would play drums and Indian pipes to sound recall to infantry or cavalry patrols and foraging parties,” said military historian Mandeep Singh Bajwa.
“Playing more Indian tunes is all fine. And I liked some of the tunes played at the Retreat this year. But soldiers on the march don’t play sitar or tabla. In fact, before the Indian Army converted to western pipe and brass bands, the shehnai and dhol used to be the instruments. But this is sheer gimmickry,” Bajwa added.