What kind of republic are we celebrating?
On the occasion of India’s Republic Day, a reader expresses his views about the country as a republic, the journey so far and what lies ahead
Many people are probably unaware of what the word ‘republic’ in Republic Day really signifies and why it is a very important day in civil life. Every year, January 26 is a holiday and the citizens are invited to observe the flag hoisting ceremony. Students and the Civil Services have no escape from this annual function. For the majority of others, it is simply a holiday! Is that all this day is about? Is it only something that ought to be observed under compulsion? If so, then we have got it all wrong. Such thinking in fact goes absolutely contrary to the real spirit of the day.
We hear and use the term ‘republic’ every now and then, but I wonder if we are fully aware of its rich meaning and long history. The word ‘republic’ comes from the Latin phrase ‘res publica’ which literally translates as ‘thing of the public.’ Thus, the word is taken to mean ‘public affair’. The idea of ‘republic’ that emerges from its linguistic origin is therefore ‘a Government of the people’. When a state is called a republic, it signifies that it is the common concern of the people; it belongs to the people and is not the private property and responsibility of the rulers. Power is not monopolised by the rulers but is shared with the people as well. Does our India really represent a republic of this nature? How often are we reminded of the blatant corruption and scandals that our representatives engage in on a daily basis? Have we grown so dull so as not to be moved to proactive action? It seems so for the majority of our population. How is it that our leaders still continue in power despite the current senario? It’s simply because we, the general public, have not risen up with sufficient strength and pulled them up for their shortcomings, negligence and failures! The modern idea of republic can be traced back to Roman times, to the Roman Republic, which lasted from the overthrow of monarchy in 509 BCE to the establishment of the Empire in 27 BCE. This republic was characterised by a Senate, which was composed of mostly wealthy aristocrats who wielded significant influence; assemblies of people that enjoyed the power to elect magistrates and pass laws and finally, a kind of judiciary that had some sort of civil and political authority. The term ‘republic’ really came into fashion with the French Revolution. The culmination of the French Revolution was the establishment of the French Republic and the adoption of a constitution that has come to be known as the Declaration of the Rights of Man and Citizen of 1793. The Declaration recognised the fundamental and inalienable rights of citizens, namely, Liberty, Equality and Fraternity. These were recognised as being ‘natural’ and ‘sacred’. What is the history of the Indian Republic that we celebrate annually? Following the achievement of Independence from British Raj in August 1947, the national leaders appointed a commission headed by Dr B R Ambedkar, to draft a constitution for the fledgling nation. The Constitution that was drafted came into force on this day in 1950. The Constitution is not simply a piece of paper that enshrines the foundational characteristics of the Republic state, but also contains the guidelines along which it ought to function. In the recent past, the Constitution itself has come under threat. Values that characterised the nation are slowly and forcefully undergoing modification. Such changes not only jeopardise the republican identity of the nation but also threaten the very concept of the republic. The Indian republic is facing a hard time ensuring the rights and dignity of its citizens. Can we say today that we are truly enjoying the ‘natural, inalienable and sacred’ rights of Liberty, Equality and Fraternity that are enshrined in our Constitution? If we can honestly answer “yes” to that question than this Republic Day is a day to celebrate. If the honest answer is “no” then this Republic Day is a clarion wake-up call! India is a republic. That means there is power in our hands too. Despite what you might think, you have power; we have power! The Government is ours to make or break. Our silence implies complicity with unfair, unjust and corrupt policies. We have to make our voices heard. If the media doesn’t allow us to do that then at least we have the social media. Let us not wait for someone else to incite a change. Each of us has the power to inspire a revolution. Each of us has a voice that can reach the millions. Are we daring enough to use it? Republic Day is a reminder to us of our role in Governance. It’s true that politics isn’t for everybody, but that shouldn’t stop us from making our voice heard. If someone took a piece of your front door every day, would you not raise your voice and seek justice immediately? Why then are we slow to do the same when it comes to our nation and its people? Our leaders have a duty towards us. They have power only so much as we are willing to give them. Let us not sit around like innocent lambs anymore, dumb to the realities around. For too long, we the public have kept our mouths shut while our elected representatives have violated and desecrated our motherland. It’s high time we raise our voice and win back our motherland. This is the true spirit of the republic. Let us rise!
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