How 'Republic' is the day?
While the definitive imagery of the Republic Day is the impressive march-past and muscularity of the Indian Armed Forces, colourful state tableaus and the cultural showcasing of the country, the exact reason to celebrate the Republic Day of India remains a bit nebulous. Increasingly, the critical conversations veer around the relevance of the ordained pomp and show, as indeed of the construct, costs, participants and the length of the proceedings. However, the real question of celebrating 'Republic' Day (one of the only two national holidays that are singularly ascribed to the Nation and not to an individual, religion, or culture), pertains to the candid assessment of what defines a 'Republic' worth celebrating in India, and where we stand on that lodestar.
India's tryst as a 'Republic' started on Jan 26, 1950, when the Indian Constitution came into effect (it was adopted earlier on 26 November 1949). The term 'Republic' is multi-dimensional, varied and expansive – from mandating democratic framework of a participative democracy, to the exclusion of vassalage or monarchist denominations, to even necessitating the character of inclusivity and the universality of the rule of law. In India, the symbolism of Republic Day is in celebrating the unifying and enabling soul of the Indian Constitution that seeks to address the challenges of diversities and disparities. It tantamount to defining the destiny that India aspires and works towards, in essence, the supreme and inviolable codes to be honoured.
Various guiding principles, statues, structures, procedures, powers, responsibilities, rights and duties of the individual and the state were etched out to protect our future from any potential deviations. Even the supposed collective will of the people as manifesting in the Parliament of the country is not allowed to tinker with the national agenda and character, as envisaged in the definitive spirit of the Constitution. It ring-fences the Indian imperatives and characteristics of secularity, democracy, equality, liberty, fraternity and sovereignty, that cannot be tempered with even the most puritanical offshoot of democracy i.e. majoritarianism. This chosen path has defined and distinguished the Indian narrative from most other nations, where the absence of a similar rigour (Indian Constitution is the world's longest) of a national document has made their evolution susceptible to the moods and agendas of the various ruling dispensations of the day.
While the contours of conscience of the Indian 'way to be' are generally outlined and protected, it retains its dynamism and breathing space to capture the specificities, interpretations and expansions of the times that be, to ensure unambiguous and uninterrupted working journey of India. The rights and duties clearly spell out the compelling impulses and expectations for and from, the individual, the state, the executive (various arms within) and the judiciary. Despite the multitude of unhealed wounds on the Indian journey like the internal insurgencies, historical injustices, continuing economic challenges, societal inequities, and political crises to name a few, the country has held its course, trajectory, and democratic instincts (the 1975 Emergency was an unfortunate interlude), only due to the sheet-anchor provided by the Indian Constitution. It is the intrinsic genius of the Indian Constitution and its chosen form of destiny that we celebrate. Therefore, on Republic Day parade, the gallantry ceremonies, ramrod-straight marching contingents and the roaring fighter jets are to be seen as the contextual symbols of the sword arm of the nation that shields this land and its onward journey 'as is', from any external exigencies, and the cultural razzmatazz signifies the hallowed 'unity in diversity', wherein we cherish and take pride in the innate diversity as a strength, and not seek to templatise the same towards uniformity, as in done in some governmental models across the world.
Given that we subconsciously take our Constitutional promises for granted, it becomes the base prism to evaluate the performance of the various political dispensations and allows making informed choices towards the one, which delivers and personifies the soul of the Constitution. The election results of the General Elections in 1977 reflected the collective angst of the electorate against the compromising of the Constitutional 'normalcy'. Similarly, the unfulfilled rights, opportunities and privileges of certain sections of society have manifested in the change of the electoral landscapes, parties, and outlooks. At the same time, perceptions of walking the talk of the mandated Constitutional promises, duties and responsibilities have ensured the repeat of certain governments (defeating the 'incumbency factor'). Democratic systems enable the auto-correcting, adapting and choosing from the various political dispensations towards the one that best promises to deliver the constitutionally safeguarded journey and destiny.
Today, we must continuously assess our prevailing status vis-a-vis the benchmarks of the constitutionally ordained spirit of liberality, inclusivity and empowerment to all. Any subjugation or selectivity of rights, privileges and expressions vitiate and militate against the soul of the Constitution, and by that extension, the nation. In many ways, the Constitution lays a reformist agenda that breaks the historical shackles of perceptions and glaring inequities in society – as Dr BR Ambedkar noted presciently, "Indians today are governed by two different ideologies. Their political ideal set in the Preamble of the Constitution affirms a life of liberty, equality and fraternity. Their social ideal embodied in their religion denies them". These accommodative and flexible contours of the constitution have enabled the progressive and encompassing solutions to address the various wounds and challenges, for the welfare and sovereignty of the nation.
Often, short-term compromises to the Constitutional spirit are knowingly undertaken, entertained or overlooked. However, the young history of Independent India shows that no political dispensation can milk such violations, forever. Speaking at the joint meeting of the US Congress, Prime Minister Narendra Modi remarked loftily, "For my government, the Constitution is its real holy book. And, in that holy book, freedom of faith, speech and franchise, and equality of all citizens, regardless of background, are enshrined as fundamental rights". Recognising this special day on which we truly embraced our destiny and the accompanying means, we affixed the term 'Republic' to India. The Republic Day parade is a powerful symbol, reiteration and celebration of the inviolability of that sacred covenant, internally, and externally.
(Lt Gen Bhopinder Singh (Retd) is former Lt Governor of Andaman & Nicobar Islands &Puducherry. The views expressed are personal.)