Republic Day of India – History and Significance
26th January marks the day of Indian Republic Day. A day when India celebrates her constitution, and citizens of India celebrate the honour and rights given to them. This day reminds every denizen the atrocities of British rule and the hardships India had gone through to step out from the clutches of slavery. India attained freedom from the British rule on 15th August 1947, after the struggle of 200 years. Thousands of Indians laid their lives to witness the dawn of freedom. The stories of those real heroes of India are embedded in the minds of every inhabitant of this land.
On August 15, 1947, Britishers declared India’s independence. But it didn’t come with the authority for Indians to select their government. Then congress leadership declared Pt. Jawaharlal Nehru as Prime Minister of Free India but still the country was governed by monarchy of King George VI. After 2 years and 6 months of continuous efforts, the constituent assembly submitted the constitution of India and 26th January 1950 became the landmark day in history when constitution came into effect.
Why Date 26 is important?
26th January wasn’t randomly selected day to mark republic day, but there is an associated history. It was the day in 1930, when first time India passed the resolution of Purna Swaraj – total independence after the breakdown of negotiations on dominion status of India. On 31 October 1929, Lord Irwin, then viceroy of British-India passed a statement on the dominion status of India. But there was no mention of any timeline to facilitate the dominion status. After this failed negotiation, in the next meeting held on 19 December 1929 at Lahore, a resolution was passed for Purna Swaraj. A public decalaration of Purna Swaraj was made on 26th January 1930, when denizens of India were urged to celebrate Independence Day on 26th January.
…. We therefore hereby solemnly resolve to carry out the Congress instructions issued from time to time for the purpose of establishing Purna Swaraj. [passage 8 of Public declaration]
Republics of Ancient India
The concept of “Republic” in India didn’t appear only after freedom from British rule. The ancient India has multiple records where the common citizens have rights to share their thoughts in the government. “Though monarchy was usual in ancient India, tribal states were also existed, which were governed by oligarchies.”, points out A.L. Basham in his book “The wonder that was India”. These oligarchies are often referred as republic, as these ganas or sanghas or tribes were represented by group of people, though not electorally selected. However, few references from Buddhist Bhikshu Sangha reveal that Sanghas knew and observed all the Parliamentary rules known to modern times.
The ancient India, especially the northern region was divided into sixteen mahajanapadas viz. Kashi, Kosala, Anga, Magadha, Vrijji, Malla, Chedi, Vatsa, Kuru, Panchal, Matsya, Shurasena, Ashmaka, Avanti, Gandhara, and Kamboj, in present times can be compared with states. These sixteen states were either monarchial or non-monarchial. The monarchial states were ruled by Kings and mostly the son of the king became successor of the throne till he was challenged by outside power or removed by internal conflicts. The rise and fall of Nanda and Maurya empire depict the stories of such dynasties which were formed by removing the existing king of the state.
The non-monarchial states widely were referred as ganas and can be considered as republics, as the group of people who participated in the decision making of these tribes used to represent large group of citizens. The mention of gana comes in Rigveda, Mahabharata (Shanti Parva), Jain text (Ayaramga-Sutta) and in Buddhist text (Avadaana Shataka).
As per Shanti Parva, dialogue between Yudhishthra and Bhisma, when Yudhishthira visited Bhishma after becoming king of Hastinapur, and said, “O the most enlightened one, I wish to hear the course of conduct of ganas” (Shanti Parva, section 107) [गणानाम् वृत्तिमिच्छामि श्रोतुम् मतिमताम् वर।].
As per Avadaana Shataka), when few merchants travelled from central India to Deccan region and asked about the form of government in their region, they replied, “some provinces are under kings while others are ruled by ganas.” [केचिद्देशा गणाधीना केचिदराजाधीना इति।]
One of such ganas was Shakya clan, Vrijji confederacy with Vaishali as capital, to which prince Siddhartha was born, who later founded Buddhism and we know him as Lord Buddha. The other non-monarchial states were Kosala and Kashi, which as per Puranic mentions were initially ruled by monarchs.
Upinder Singh in her book, A History of ancient and early medieval India, points that the ganas had greater vestiges of tribal organization than the monarchies. Some may have simply been more complex political forms of older tribal formations. Others may have been created through the subversion of the monarchial rule. Whatever be the case, but these tribes played major roles in defending the boundaries of vast land from the foreign invasions at varied times. During the campaign of Alexander towards India, there are enough evidence proving the tough combat between the vast army of Alexander and the army of these tribes. Another example comes from the time of Gupta Empire, when Panjab, Rajputana, Malwa, etc. were in the possession of the tribes living under republican or oligarchical institutions. These tribes were part of the vast Gupta empire.
Many examples of varied tribes can be cited during the Muslim invasions in 7th and 8th century. These tribes under the leadership of their chieftains gave tough combat to the early Muslim invasions and blocked their campaign towards the mainland. Therefore, it can be derived that the republican tribes weren’t only the representation of citizens but also the extension of cavalry of great empires of Ancient India.
First Draft Committee and Ambedkar
15th August 1947, India was freed from the supremacy of British but the work towards the formation of constitution of free India initiated few months before the actual independence. On one hand when freedom fighters were negotiating the freedom of India with British rulers, another group of people were busy crafting the dream constitution of India.
9th December 1946, the first meeting of constituent assembly held with more than 300 members and Dr. B. R. Ambedkar as the chairman of the drafting committee. It took 2 years, 11 months and 17 days for the committee to draft the first constitution of Free India. The first draft submitted by the committee had 395 articles and 8 schedules which set the beginning of the democratic nation, called India. On 26th January 1950, India became truly independent with the sense that from that day, she had a government of the people, by the people, and for the people.
Dr. Ambedkar dreamt of the free democratic India and relentlessly worked with his team in drafting the constitution of India. He followed the principles and acts of freedom fighters but when he presented the draft before the parliament, he strictly opposed the methods of civil disobedience, non-cooperation and Satyagraha.
In November 1949, while presenting the constitution of India, he advocated following the constitutional methods of achieving social and economic objectives. He objectively mentioned not to lay the liberties at the feet of greatest man or allowing someone to subvert the power of an institution. He believed that Bhakti or hero-worship paves way for degradation in politics. He firmly believed that the democracy can only be exercised when equality, liberty and fraternity are balanced. And on 26th January 1950, as the constitution of India came into effect, the political equality was given to every citizen of India, with the principle – one man one vote, and one vote one value.
Nation, Nationality and Constitutional Rights
After the movement of British out of Indian territory in 1947, the mountainous task was to unite 554 states under one political homogeneity. Sardar Patel, the Iron man of India commenced this humongous effort and integrated these 554 states into fourteen administrative units. The task wasn’t to unite the states geographically as India was always geographically one unit. But to install the sense of nationhood and brotherhood among the citizens with different caste, color, creed, custom, and culture. Instilling the feeling of nationality was the task for the team of Sardar Patel, and also it was his accountability to ensure that there were no differences once all states were united under one national flag.
Nationality is a social feeling. And as Ambedkar pointed in his book Pakistan or Partition of India, it is a feeling of a corporate sentiment of oneness which makes those who are charged with it feel that they are kith and kin. It is a feeling of “consciousness of kind” which on one hand binds together those who have it, so strongly that it over-rides all differences arising out of economic conflicts or social gradations…. It is a longing not to belong to any other group.
Nation is an emotion which binds together the differences among millions of citizens in a thread of oneness. This feeling of oneness became firm when the constitution gave seven fundamental rights to every citizen –
- Right to Equality
- Right to Freedom
- Right Against Exploitation
- Right to Freedom of Religion
- Cultural and Educational Rights
- Right to Property
- Right to Constitutional Remedies
However, under 44th amendment in 1978, “Right to Property” was removed from the constitution. These fundamental rights empower every denizen to exercise their freedom and thus it became extremely important to ensure these rights don’t deluge the sense of responsibilities towards nation. Hence in 1976, ten fundamental duties were introduced, which were increased to eleven in 2002. The list of 11 fundamental duties is as below.
It shall be the duty of every citizen of India —
- To abide by the Constitution and respect its ideals and institutions, the National Flag and the National Anthem;
- To cherish and follow the noble ideals which inspired our national struggle for freedom;
- To uphold and protect the sovereignty, unity and integrity of India;
- To defend the country and render national service when called upon to do so;
- To promote harmony and the spirit of common brotherhood amongst all the people of India transcending religious, linguistic and regional or sectional diversities; to renounce practices derogatory to the dignity of women;
- To value and preserve the rich heritage of our composite culture;
- To protect and improve the natural environment including forests, lakes, rivers, wildlife and to have compassion for living creatures;
- To develop the scientific temper, humanism and the spirit of inquiry and reform;
- To safeguard public property and to abjure violence;
- To strive towards excellence in all spheres of individual and collective activity so that the nation constantly rises to higher levels of endeavour and achievement;
- Who is a parent or guardian, to provide opportunities for education to his child, or as the case may be, ward between the age of six to fourteen years.
Republic – What it means for Indians?
The concept of republic is not new to Indians. We have been exercising democracy since ancient times. Mention of ganas in Rigveda, Mahabharata and other Buddhist and Jain texts is the proof that there was amalgamation of monarchy and republic states since ancient times. India became free from British control in 1947, but it wasn’t the first time when any foreign power invaded the sovereignty of India. The thought to ponder is that the freedom wasn’t lost because only of the invasion but because of the infidelity and treachery of some of internal people. When Alexander started his campaign towards India, Ambhikumar of Takshila not only surrendered before him but also supported for his further advancements. When Qasim first invaded, the commanders of King Dahar accepted bribes from agent of Qasim and revealed secrets. And in the first revolt of 1857 against Britishers, few countrymen stood as spectators.
The midnight of 15th August 1947 brought the emotion of freedom with it. But the same night brought the chaos in the lives of millions of people who had to leave everything because someone had drawn a line on a map without knowing the actual demographics of the nation. Since then, India had faced several wounds but as a nation we strived. Independence came with the sense of responsibilities with no option to blame anyone. We are responsible for our deeds as a group, as a nation.
Since the inception of being called republic, India has proved the strength of constitution and democracy. The democratically elected governments have enshrined the principles of democracy – of the people, by the people, for the people. But in this era of being the world’s largest democracy, it becomes our duty to preserve the faith of people in democracy and constitution of India. The social and economic inequalities need to be bridged like the way we installed the political equality. Let’s all celebrate the festival of equality and liberty with honour and respect.
This year 2021, India celebrates its 72nd Republic Day.
- Vincent A. Smith: The Early History of India
- R C Majumdar: Corporate Life in Ancient India
- R S Sharma: India’s Ancient Past
- A L Basham: The Wonder that was India
- B R Ambedkar: Pakistan or Partition of India
- Upinder Singh: A History of Ancient and Early Medieval India
- B R Ambedkar: Closing Speech of the first Constituent Assembly of India (New Delhi, November 1949)
- Public Declaration of Purna Swaraj: Indian National Congress 1930
- Statement of Irwin Declaration: 1929
- Constitution of India Full Text: https://www.india.gov.in/my-government/constitution-india/constitution-india-full-text