As India celebrates its 73rd Republic day on January 26th, 2022, it becomes equally imperative and interesting to understand the history behind the country choosing to become a republic by adopting a Constitution nearly after two and a half years of its gaining independence from the British Raj.
The colonial India got its independence from the British Raj in August of 1947 after many decades of struggle, deaths, bloodsheds, protests, imprisonments, etc. It was a collaborative effort and sacrifice of each ‘Hindustanis’ and the freedom fighters that it made increasingly difficult to rule the country by the colonial power and ultimately hand over the country to the democratically elected government.
When India became Independent in the August of 1947, it was just a ‘Democratic’ country and not the ‘Republic’, which is sometimes misunderstood as the same form of government. But there are major differences between the two form of governments. Though Republics and Democracies both provide a government which are elected by the people but in pure democracies, laws and acts are made directly by the voting majority leaving the rights of the minority largely unprotected. Whereas in republics laws and acts are made by the representatives elected by the people and must comply with the constitution that protects the rights of the minorities from the will of the majority. In democracies the voting majority has almost unlimited powers to frame laws whereas in the Republics the people elect representatives that make laws according to the constraints of a constitution.
One of the most visible difference between the Republics and the Democracies is that though in both the forms the people elect their governments but in republics the heads of the states too are elected by the elected representatives elected by the people. For example, India is a ‘Democratic Republic’ where the people elect the government and the government elects the head of state i.e. the President. But in countries like United Kingdom though the government is elected by the people through the exercise of the democracy but the power as the head of the state lies with the monarch. Therefore, United Kingdom is a Democracy but not a Republic.
Before 1950, when India became a Republic country, the title of the head of the state was reserved for the British Monarch who was represented by the Governor-General. But in 1950 when the Constitution of India came into force, the title of the head of the state went to the President of India, the first president to take oath being Dr. Rajendra Prasad.
Now, before the Constitution of India came into force the country was governed by the series of statutes enacted by the British Parliament and the key among them was the Government of India Act 1919 and 1935. The Acts did give certain rights and universal suffrage but had major degree of limitations in terms of autonomy, governance and vast amount of powers were kept in the hands of the British. Therefore, the freedom strugglers wanted India to have its own Constitution framed by its own people that gave much needed freedom and independence to the country.
Months before India achieved its Independence, the provincial assembly had set a committee that was entrusted to draft a new constitution which was to be delivered to the Indian citizenry that brought life to the dreams and hopes of the millions of common folks of the country. The committee was tasked to draft a vision document for the nation that guaranteed certain rights to each individuals of the country, gave the power to elect its own government, gave security to each individuals and most importantly provide the right to equality, the right to freedom, the right against exploitation, the right to freedom of religion, cultural and educational rights and the right to constitutional remedies. It was this committee that had the duty to lay provisions and laws that was to safeguard the independence of the nation. And the person chosen as the chairman of the drafting committee was Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar who was later sworn in as the first law minister of Independent India. He came from the dalit background, one of the minority groups of the country.
The committee was formed on December 6, 1946 and held its first session on December 9, 1946 in the Constitution Hall which is now the Central Hall of the Parliament House. On November 26, 1949 the Constitution of India was passed and adopted by the assembly. The committee held its last meeting on January 24, 1950 where the Constitution was signed by 284 members of the constituent assembly and accepted with 395 Articles, 8 Schedules and 22 Parts. And finally, on January 26, 1950 the Constitution came into force.
With the Constitution of India coming into force it became the longest, best, most honoured and the most voluminous Constitution in the world. The idea of fundamental rights was taken from the American Constitution while the concept of five-year plan from the Union of Soviet Socialist Republics. The Constitution was written in both English and Hindi where the English version of the Indian Constitution has about 1,45,000 words. The first draft of the Constitution had 2,000 amendments and as of January 2019, there were only 103 amendments made in the Constitution of India ever since it was enforced. The original copies of the Constitution were handwritten by Prem Bihari Narain Raizada, each page decorated by the artists from Shantiniketan and is now preserved in a helium-filled case in the library of the Indian Parliament. The whole process took 2 years, 11 months and 18 days at a total expenditure of Rs. 6.4 million to complete.
Therefore, each year on January 26th, the country celebrates the day as its ‘Republic Day’. The day when India got its Constitution that was made by its people and for its people. That safeguarded the rights of each individuals of the country, gave freedom of expression, freedom of speech, freedom of choose any religion, form their own government and most importantly participate in the process of choosing the path by the nation towards progress and prosperity.