Wagah Retreat : Untamed Tempers
It is a dramatic war of sorts every day at the Waghah Border, which makes the jawans of the BSF and the Pakistan Rangers look comical, at times
Ajay Bhardwaj from Wagah Border
Every day there is a veritable war between Bharat and Pakistan in Amritsar at the Wagha Border where the Retreat ceremony takes place. It is a “war” of tempers, a “war’ of dramatics, a “war” of patriotic slogan-shouting, a “war” of feet thumping during the parade, a “war” of whipping up nationalistic feelings on both the sides of the border.
The cacophony that pierces the sky at the daily Retreat ceremony does not just rattle the otherwise quiet Indo-Pak border but arouses passions on both sides of the border which is being questioned by the locals now. The propriety and the necessity of it all.
In their zeal to compete on the Wagha Border, India and Pakistan have lately locked horns on their respective towering national flags.
Gursharan Singh, a leading local trader, recently pointed out to the BSF authorities that the ceremony should be conducted gracefully and be shorn off aggression attached to it. “Though it helps to whip up nationalist feelings in the face of the enemy land, yet building up unnecessary tension every day is pointless”, he said.
Even the BSF officials have their reservations over the aggressive postures synthetically adopted during the half an hour exercise. Besides banging the border gates so loudly, the BSF jawans have now started adopting a new posture of arms muscle flexing facing eyeball to eyeball with the Pakistan Rangers. The blustering parade on both sides of the border, which involves aggressive thumping of feet after lifting them head-high, is another hallmark of the ceremony that sees the crowd indulging in loud cheering and slogan shouting.
The jawans are trained specially for this parade keeping their height and body-structure in mind. But the converse part of it is that it has caused serious knee injuries to more than a dozen BSF jawans in the recent past, some of whom have even left the job after knee injuries.
There have been erratic attempts on both the sides of the border to tone down the exercise, but they have met with no success. “Some of the senior BSF officials had mooted the idea in the past, but, perhaps, in view of the public pressure it could not be executed”, said a senior official. In 2010, the then Major General Yaqub Ali Khan of the Pakistan Rangers had also decided that the aggressive aspect of the ceremonial theatrics should be toned down, but nothing much happened on the ground. The idea came after an incident in which a BSF jawan and a Pakistan Rangers jawan had aimed their guns at each other.
In fact, over the years the ceremony has become more theatrical. Among the added features is the sword-wielding BSF commander who overlooks the ceremony, the dance of visitors close to the border gate to the tune of patriotic songs holding aloft the national flag and construction of an imposing stadium overlooking the Indo-Pak border in order to increase the sitting capacity of visitors. In addition, one sees a BSF man, in plain clothes, running around urging onlookers to raise the pitch of their voice while shouting nationalistic slogans. The Retreat ceremony, which basically involves lowering of the national flags on both sides of the border at the sunset, started in 1959 but has been disrupted many times as the tension between Bharat and Pakistan escalates. Besides the war times in 1965 and 1971, the Retreat was put on hold even during the Kargil war days and recently in September and October last year, people on the Indian side were kept off the border due to the tension in J&K.
Regardless of periodic disruptions, the retreat ceremony these days is a major tourist attraction that sees, on an average, 10,000 to 15,000 viewers coming from across the country flocking the border every day. The ceremony ends with a retreat that involves a brusque handshake between soldiers from either side, followed by the closing of the gates again. The spectacle of the ceremony attracts a large number of overseas visitors as well. The number has increased manifold in the recent years indicating the overwhelming interest of the people, especially those from other states, to see the Indo-Pak border and the theatrics.