Why did India become a Republic?

Coming from a long history of heritage and culture from ancient times, India, or Jambudweep as it was called in antiquity, never had the need to rely on any other state or nation in the world. “Make In India” might be a new scheme, but self-reliability was always a core definition of the Indian market. When the British enslaved that market for nearly 200 years in an exponential fashion (1757-1947), India was broken piece by piece, and its parts were scrapped for gold. India got independence from the British monarchy in 1947, but the handover was not complete since Lord Mountbatten remained the Governor General of India under King George VI till 1950. She was still a constitutional monarchy, such as present-day New Zealand and Canada under the United Kingdom, and had no democracy or constitution in place. India’s citizens were denied the freedom of electing their own leaders. It was in these three years (1947 -1950) that the Constitution of India was drafted by lawmakers to replace the colonial Government of India Act (1935) as the governing document. Only then did our nation truly become free, as a Republic. Indian Constitution took into consideration the constitutions of different countries that were known for their unique revolutions in civilization.

WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA, having solemnly resolved to constitute India into a SOVEREIGN, DEMOCRATIC REPUBLIC and to secure to all its citizens:
JUSTICE, social, economic and political;
LIBERTY of thought, expression, belief, faith and worship;
EQUALITY of status and of opportunity; and to promote among them all
FRATERNITY assuring the dignity of the individual and the unity and integrity of the Nation;

The original preamble of Indian Constitution

Let me explain a few terms, even though I am sure you are aware of them.

A Sovereign state has independent authority — it has the power to pass law unto any subject, and is not subject to the control of any other State or external power. So the term denotes supreme and ultimate power. Sovereignty may be real or normal, legal or political, and individual or pluralistic. Speaking of the whole nation, it cannot be more pluralistic than it already is. This word was taken from article 5 of the constitution of Ireland.

**Here I must say that the terms SOCIALIST and SECULAR were later added by Prime Minister Indira Gandhi in an amendment to the Preamble during the Emergency in India. So I will skip those terms and stick solely to the other words in the original preamble.**

In the case of Mohan Lal Tripathi vs District Magistrate, the term “Democracy” was discussed and it was held that Democracy is a concept of political philosophy, that is practiced by many nations via resorting to governance by representatives of people directly or indirectly. People of 18 years and above can elect their governments by a system of universal adult franchise, popularly known as “one person one vote”.

As opposed to a monarchy, in which the head of the state is appointed on a hereditary basis for life or until abdication, a Republic is an entity in which the head of state is elected, directly or indirectly, for a fixed tenure. There’s the absence of privileged class and all public offices are open to every citizen without discrimination of race, class, and gender. The word Republic is derived from the Latin res publica which means ‘public affair’. Here the power rests with the people or their representatives, such as the head of the state; specifically in a state without a monarchy. Our current President, who is elected indirectly by the Parliament for a fixed term, is Srimati Draupadi Murmu. Also amongst classical Latin, the term “republic” can be used in a general way to refer to any regime, or in a specific way to refer to governments that work for the public good.

India is a Parliamentary Republic, meaning that the President is a ceremonial and non-executive head of the state. A separate head of government (The Prime Minister) leads the executive and the President is dependent on the confidence of the legislature in the Parliament.

“When the citizens at large govern for the public good, it is called by the name common to all governments (to koinon onoma pasōn tōn politeiōn), government (politeia)”.

Aristotle, Book III of Politics
The Roman Republic

The Latin writers translated the Greek term politeia to res publica and it was in turn translated by Renaissance scholars as “republic” (or similar terms in various European languages). So the concept has been passed through ancient times and holds significance in how we interpret our socio-political scenario.

Recently, I had been to the Bihar Museum, where I saw the head end of Indian history, starting right back from the sixteen Mahajanapadas (meaning Great foothold of a people). They were the most powerful and vast kingdoms and oligarchic republics of the era, each having a state head with executive power. Besides, a number of smaller kingdoms also stretched the length and breadth of Ancient India. The early republican institutions come from the independent Gaṇasaṅghasgaṇa meaning “tribe” and saṅgha means “assembly”. Tribal history can be thought of as typical small Republics, since their law, order, and political structure existed outside any monarchy. These may have existed as early as the 6th century BCE and persisted in some areas until the 4th century CE in India. The Magadha Kingdom included republican communities such as the community of Rajakumara. Villages had their own assemblies under their local chiefs called Gramakas. Their administrations were divided into judicial, executive, and military functions.

The Pre-Buddhist northern Indian sub-continent was divided into several Janapadas, demarcated from each other by boundaries. Thereafter, several Buddhist texts mention the names of these sixteen republics:

1. Anga 2. Assaka (or Asmaka) 3. Avanti 4. Chedi 5. Gandhara 6. Kashi 7. Kamboja 8. Kosala 9. Kuru 10. Magadha 11. Malla 12. Matsya (or Maccha) 13. Panchala 14. Surasena 15. Vajji 16. Vatsa (or Vamsa)

But enough history lessons! It is clear by now that India was no stranger to the republican form of government. But specifically during the time of 1947-1950, the constitution helped clarify a lot of things in how to functionalize the democratic republic sovereign nation and how to elect the heads of the state. It was considered a dangerous precedent to give concentrated power in the hands of the aristocratic or wealthy few, so the system ensured that anyone and everyone could be at the decision-making table, as long as they are eligible and selected as representatives by the people, for the people.

The Congress Working Committee had approved a declaration of independence on January 26, 1930, which stated: “The British government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually…. Therefore…India must sever the British connection and attain Poorna Swaraj or complete independence.” This is when a dominant political party in India rejected constitutional monarchy and demanded to be a full-fledged Republican state. Under the leadership of Dr. Babasaheb Ambedkar as the chairman, the Drafting Committee for a permanent constitution was appointed after the Independence, including jurist B N Rau, and all the regions and communities of India including 15 women too. Two decades later, 26th January was chosen to honor the sacrifice and battles of the freedom fighters in the struggle and India celebrated its first Republic day in 1950, by releasing their own legislation in the form of the Constitution.

Pledge for Poorna Swaraj, 1930
Signing of First Draft of the Indian Constitution
Women involved in the drafting committee of the Constitution
Men involved in the drafting committee of the Constitution

In her first such address as President, ahead of the 74th Republic Day, President Draupadi Murmu said that those who shaped the modern Indian mind had welcomed progressive ideas from abroad and from all directions, following the Vedic advice, ‘Let noble thoughts come to us from all directions’. Murmu said, “Revolutionaries and reformers joined hands with visionaries and idealists to help us learn about our age-old values of peace, brotherhood, and equality… Such a diverse multitude of people coming together as one nation remains unprecedented. We did so with a belief that we are, after all, one; that we are all Indians.” She wrapped up her address with “Jai Jawan, Jai Kisan, Jai Vigyan, Jai Anusandhan”.

President Draupadi Murmu addresses the nation on the eve of the 74th Republic Day of India

So there are two main essences of being a Republic: Number one, the citizens elect the representatives in the Government, who in turn elect the Head of State; Number two, the power of movement within the social, political, and economic scenario of the country rests with the people. Sometimes, people forget these simple yet powerful ideas behind the conception of India, the forging of the great nation. Today, on the 74th Republic Day in 2023, we celebrate India’s complicated yet enigmatic explosion onto the modern world with its Republican government, hoist the tricolor, and sing songs of praise for freeing the nation from its colonial shackles, eventually becoming a deserving leader in the global scenario!

Sources: Wikipedia, https://www.thebetterindia.com/129195/republic-day-history/, https://indianexpress.com/article/political-pulse/president-draupadi-murmu-republic-day-address-8404557/


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