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India2015: Celebrating 66 Years As a Republic

All that you need to know about a 66 year old Republic

Fun facts about the Indian Republic, and our counterparts all across the world.

The first long weekend of 2015 is already here, and social media can’t stop discussing the security arrangements surrounding US President Obama’s upcoming visit as part of India’s Republic Day celebrations. But as the Indian Republic turns 66, do we really remember, or care about, what we are celebrating? So as you wait to board your fog-delayed flight/train/bus or prepare for three days of unadulterated laziness, here are some interesting facts about republics, Indian and international. Enjoy!

What is a Republic?

The Oxford English dictionary defines a Republic as:

A state in which supreme power is held by the people and their elected representatives, and which has an elected or nominated president rather than a monarch

If you think that sounds oddly similar to a democracy, you are not alone. Diffen provides a great comparison of Republic versus Democracy, the most vital of which is the restrictions placed on the powers of the rulers by means of a citizens charter, or constitution, that guarantees certain rights to the citizens that cannot be taken away even by a majority elected government. Read more about the differences between a republic and democracy here, and find out  some interesting facts about democracy and elections here.

Republics Around the World

It is believed that the Greeks conceived democracy while the Romans invented the republican form of government. Which is possibly why the oldest republic in the modern world is supposed to be the Republic of San Marino. The tiny microstate, with a reported population of less than 32,000 and a life expectancy of 83 years, embraced a republican form of government in the year 301, when it declared its independence from the Roman Empire (but it took 1600 years for the Papacy to recognize its independence, in the year 1631)

It took nearly thirteen hundred years for the world’s second republic to be established, in Netherlands in 1581.

The youngest republic in the world is our neighbour Nepal, which moved from a monarchy to a republican form of government in 2008.

Map showing different types of republics around the world, courtesy Diffen

democracies-and-republics-around-the-world


 Constitution of India

Since the distinguishing characteristic of a republic is the presence of that all-important Constitution that enshrines certain rights, India’s Republic Day celebrates 26 January, 1950, the date on which the Constitution of Independent India replaced the British-founded Government of India Act (1935) as the supreme law of the land.

You already know that the Indian Constitution is the longest in the world and that it took  nearly three years (two years, eleven months and seventeen days to be precise) to complete, but how many women were part of the Constituent Assembly that was tasked with developing this landmark document? Nine, according to a 2012 compendium of speeches by women members of the 1946 Constituent Assembly. These speeches make for fascinating reading, with the discussions touching upon a gamut of topics that are relevant even today, from exploitation of children to development of youth, arguments against reservations&  factionalism, upholding high standards of governance, practising freedom with responsibility and finally, sensible criticism about the length of the Constitution!

I always imagined a constitution and still believe, to be a small volume which one could carry in one’s purse or pocket and not a huge big volume. There was no necessity to go into so many details as has been done here.

No one can be blamed for shying away from reading such a long and clunky document, but the original Constitution of India should certainly be appreciated as a priceless work of art. For the entire document, created both in Hindi and English, is handwritten in beautiful calligraphy by Prem Behari Narain Raizda and adorned with exquisite illustrations by Nandalal Bose and other artists belonging to the Santiniketan school of art. No wonder that it took nearly five years to produce this unique manuscript!

While the original is preserved in a special helium-filled case in the Library of the Parliament of India, do take a peek into the digital version at the World Digital Library and find out more about the illustrations here.

constitution of India original calligraphy art

One of the most forward thinking aspects of the Indian Constitution is the pledge of universal suffrage all adult citizens were deemed eligible to vote at the time of adoption in 1950, irrespective of race or gender or religion. In contrast, it took America another 15 years to grant voting rights to African Americans (in 1965) while the United Kingdom addressed the exclusion of voters in Northern Ireland only in 1972.

Republic Day Celebrations

The Republic Day Parade at Rajpath is the crowning jewel of the three day celebrations of the Republic Day. Of the 56 Heads of State/ Political Luminaries who have attended as Guests of Honour at the parade, only one was a woman – Britain’s Queen Elizabeth. Bhutan and France have been invited as many as four times, while President Obama’s attendance as the 57th Guest of Honour marks the début of the United States.

Countries invited as chief guest for India Republic Day parade” by Vizziee, who  edited the Blank World Map file provided by the Wikipedia Commons. Licensed under CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons.

Countries_invited_as_chief_guest_for_India_Republic_Day_parade

 

As we brave the early morning rehearsals and the never-ending traffic logjams (if you are one of the elite with a VIP pass, leave now!), we can’t help but wonder how many of our Parliamentarians have bothered to familiarize themselves with the tenets of the Constitution, or the ideals and philosophy of its founding members. Not many, if  the endless parliament logjams are anything to go by.

Incidentally, researching this article brought out a mysterious desire to watch a live session of Parliament, so we tried to find out how we can visit the Public Gallery. Turns out that while the Rajya Sabha generously declares that “People can, by witnessing the proceedings of Parliament, see democracy at work and carry impressions about the functioning of their representatives in Parliament.”, one needs to apply at least a day in advance and furnish a letter of introduction from a MP to secure the so-called public pass. In short, “Do you know who my Uncle is?”

Sources:

http://www.diffen.com/, http://www.wikipedia.org/, http://rajyasabha.nic.in/, http://parliamentofindia.nic.in/

Also Read:

2015 Long Weekend Guide

8 Interesting Facts About Democracy and Elections

Women Participation in Politics

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Image courtesy: ramesh_lalwani via Compfight cc

 

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