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Shrimaan bows out of parade
- Gender-neutral ceremony awaits Pratibha takeover
Pratibha Patil

New Delhi, July 23: When parade commander Colonel Pandherkar invites Pratibha Patil to inspect the guard of honour as President for the first time on Wednesday, he will do so in gender-neutral fashion.

On other occasions, commanders of guards of honour have been known to march up smartly to the dignitary, click their heels hard and shout in Hindi: “Shrimaan, antar-seva samman guard aapke nirikshan ke liye tayyar hain (Sir, the inter-services guard of honour is ready for your inspection).” The option is to address the new President as “Shrimati,.…”

But parade commanders are at liberty to choose the form of address to the President. They may choose not to address but to speak. Colonel Pandherkar is not known to address the President as “Sir” or “Madam” but simply as “Rashtrapati”, keeping to perfect protocol and according due respect. It is a practice followed by the armed forces in guards of honour to foreign heads of state irrespective of their gender.

In the elaborate military ritual for the supreme commander-in-chief of the armed forces when A.P.J. Abdul Kalam steps out and Patil steps into Rashtrapati Bhavan as the first woman President, there is nothing that will be a departure from protocol.

Colonel Pandherkar, the commanding officer of 6 Assam, the army battalion attached to Rashtrapati Bhavan for ceremonial duties, is unlikely to use any form of address to the President. He will say simply that the guard is ready for the President to be escorted through its ranks and take the salute.

Nor will there be any hint that the military staff of the President will see more women included. But the army has begun a quiet hunt for lady officers to be ADCs.

A thousand soldiers of the army, navy and air force will line the route from the main gates of Rashtrapati Bhavan to Parliament House on Wednesday morning. But before that, President-elect Pratibha Patil will be escorted from her residence in Delhi to Rashtrapati Bhavan without much ceremony.

In the library of the Rashtrapati Bhavan annexe, she will be received and greeted by President Kalam. The two will then emerge from the building to take the salute of the President’s bodyguard. Here, the commandant of the bodyguard, Colonel Mehmood, is likely to invite Kalam by saying: “Rashtrapati, aapka angrakshak aapke nirikshan ke liye tayyar hain (President, your bodyguard is ready for the inspection).”

The ceremonial cavalcade will begin after that. Escorted by the President’s bodyguard dressed in ceremonial regalia and mounted on horseback, the limousine with Kalam and Patil will drive through the rows of soldiers — 700 from the army, 150 from the air force and 150 from the navy — to Parliament.

The soldiers would salute — a 1,000-man salute — as the cavalcade passes through the gates, down Raisina Hill, takes the left turn at Vijay Chowk and reach Parliament house. There would be 30 officers among the soldiers. On the evidence of the dress rehearsal on Sunday, not one of them would be a woman from the services. The 1,000-man salute would be organised by the army’s Delhi area command headed by Major General K.G.S. Oberoi.

President Kalam would be in the left passenger’s seat of the limousine and Pratibha Patil on the right during the drive to Parliament. On the drive back from Parliament, the order would be reversed. The custom indicates that the President should be nearest to the entrance of Parliament when the car parks.

Inside Parliament, after Pratibha Patil takes the oath, Kalam and Patil will exchange seats — because that indicates she is now the President. At that moment, the army will give a 21-gun salute. Old field guns somewhere in Lutyens’ Delhi will fire blanks 21 times to boom the message that India has a new President.

The two will leave after the national anthem in Parliament. This time, Pratibha Patil will be in the left passenger’s seat of the limousine. The cavalcade will return to Rashtrapati Bhavan.

The new President will walk to the forecourt of her palace for the guard of honour which Colonel Pandherkar will invite her to inspect. Pratibha Patil will then escort Kalam to the point where he will take his car and leave Rashtrapati Bhavan

Escorted by nine outriders, Kalam will head for a small bungalow in the Delhi cantonment. The temporary residence at 26 The Mall is an army guest-house. It is a house with a single bedroom and a kitchenette. About five hours later, Kalam will fly to Chennai.

In the meantime, the ceremonial and welfare cell in army headquarters will be scrutinising its lists to prepare for a turnover of the military staff attached to Rashtrapati Bhavan. The President has five ADCs — three from the army and one each from the navy and the air force. In a few weeks, the personnel change will begin and India’s first woman President will count among her staff India’s first woman ADC.

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