Celebrations of Republic Day started an hour early outside Jamia and continued throughout the night in various parts of the country. The 71st Republic Day of the country is accompanied by the question of how much of a republic we really are? The celebration on the streets is strongly reminiscent of this very day 71 years ago when ‘We, The People’ gifted ourselves the constitution.
Today, the students, the unemployed youth are standing up to a repressive regime. The ‘millennials’ have had to learn the hard way that republic wasn’t a gift—rather it was a result of the hard-fought struggle against another repressive regime from an earlier period. The present-day bigotry may seem to be the end of our constitutional values, but one cannot forget the times in which this very constitution came to be drafted. The communal tensions in the country were at their peak; the pain and trauma of the partition was a lived experience rather than a traumatic memory. The creation of Pakistan had given the model of a communal state to the people.
Yet, the makers of the constitution chose sovereign, secular, democratic, constitutional, republican values as the founding principles of the Indian nation. The adoption of these principles was a result of decades-long struggle and bloodshed. The idea of the nation metamorphosed throughout the struggle for Swaraj. There were multiple ideas of India even in the minds of the people and the leaders back then. However, these ideas were harmonized by the constitution. The constitution laid down the conditions under which the country would progress as a united nation with social harmony and welfare of each citizen.
In a period of denial of fundamental liberties by the elected government itself, the people, especially the students, have reclaimed and revived the national symbols, unlike ever before. The Preamble and the Constitution have emerged not only as a shield to protect oneself from police brutality, but also as weapons to destroy the oppressive regime.
The powerful image of a Dalit leader holding the constitution in one hand and the portrait of Ambedkar in the other on the steps of Jama Masjid is one that embodies our constitutional legacy. The use of the nationalist symbols to unite a country, where divisive forces are at their strongest, is a natural choice that has revived the idea of the Indian republic like no other movement.
One cannot help but remember the words of Bhagat Singh today:
“It doesn’t make any difference to Indian people whether Lord Irwin or Tej Bahadur Sapru rule India as long as the people continue to live in a state of lack of freedom, oppression and poverty.”
The people have to realise what the students have understood: one needs to claim the political space given by the constitution or risk living in an autocracy.
The fight to reclaim the ethos of the constitution and principles on which India was created is a long one but has become successful in converting the Robo-Public into a republic. Today, the celebration of the Republic Of India isn’t the two-hour televised parade, rather it’s on the streets of the country. Change is here, and no one can unsee it. The dream of a great India, as envisioned by the constitution, is still alive.