Republicanism is centred on the principle of citizenship in a state organised as a republic. The word ‘republic’ derives from the Latin noun-phrase res publica (‘public thing’), which referred to the system of government that emerged in the 6th century BCE following the expulsion of the kings from Rome by Lucius Junius Brutus and Collatinus.
Historically, republicanism ranges from the rule of a representative minority or oligarchy to popular sovereignty. This form of government in the Roman state collapsed in the latter part of the 1st century BCE, giving way to what was a monarchy in form, if not in name. Republics recurred subsequently, with, for example, Renaissance Florence or early modern Britain.
The concept of republic became a powerful force in Britain’s North American colonies, where it contributed to the American Revolution. In Europe, it gained enormous influence through the French Revolution and the First French Republic of 1792-1804.
What we often forget in all this is that the Indian subcontinent was practicing republicanism long before the Roman republic arose. Ganarajya, in the times of yore, were ancient Indian republics. The word Gana also means numbers and Ganarajya, therefore, means the rule of numbers or the rule of many. The Dharma Sutras and Dharma Shastras contain frequent references to Gana that seems to denote town or village corporations.
Inscriptions refer to Malava and Yaudheya Ganas and in Samudragupta’s Allahabad Pillar inscription, they are clearly distinguished from monarchies. The Bijaygadh Pillar inscription expressly refers to the fact that the Yaudheya Gana used to elect its Chief who also served as a General. In chapter 108 of Shanti Parva of the Mahabharata, Yudhishthira asks Bhishma about the ganas, particularly about their functioning and defence.
Reference of Ganas can be found in Pāṇini’s works and Naradasmriti. Ganas are also referred to in the Rig Veda in Mandala 3 Hymn 26, Verse 6, albeit as assemblies of warriors, when they say:
व्रातं व्रातं गणम् गणम्
Sangam literature of Tamil (c. 300 BCE – c. 300CE) describes offerings for ganas in Silapathikaram, one of the five epics of Tamil by Ilango Adigal, saying the offering for 18 kinds of ganas.
The concept of republics in ancient India is much older than that of Greece or Rome and flourished mainly in north-western and north-eastern regions of India from 600 B.C. to 400 A.D. Ironically, our chief source of historical information about the Ganarajya of ancient India are Greek writers for north-western zone and Buddhist works for the north-eastern zone. These, apart from the Mahabharata, Arthashastra and works of Panini, Katyayana and Patanjali, also provide us information about these ancient republics.
In the modern era, India became a republic in 1950. Republic Day honours the date on which the Constitution of India came into effect on January 26, 1950, replacing the Government of India Act (1935) as the governing document of India, thus, turning the newly formed nation into a republic.
January 26 was chosen as the date to celebrate Republic Day because it was on this day in 1929 that the Declaration of Indian Independence (Purna Swaraj) was proclaimed by the Indian National Congress as opposed to the Dominion status offered by the British Regime.
This was the day when the flag of India was hoisted by Jawaharlal Nehru in 1929 on the banks of Ravi river, in Lahore, modern-day Pakistan, thereby marking the call for complete independence from the British.
The Constitution of India has 448 articles in 25 parts and 12 schedules. There are 104 amendments that have been made in the Indian Constitution up to January 25, 2020. Copies of the handwritten Constitution of Indian were signed by 308 Assembly members on January 24, 1950.
While we celebrate Republic Day on 26 January, Republic Day is a three-day affair that ends on January 29 with the Beating Retreat Ceremony. A foreign head of State is usually the Guest of Honour, with President Sukarno, the first Head of State of Indonesia as the chief guest for India’s first Republic Day. Republic Day was first celebrated at Rajpath in the year 1955, where the chief guest was the Governor-General of Pakistan, Malik Ghulam Mohammed.
I hope and pray that we keep our place as a champion of humanity, embodying unity in diversity that the nation’s dharmic foundations bring to the fore and the torchbearer of republican ideas of liberty, equality and fraternity.