Road to the Republic,1929-1950

Issues Details: 
Vol 9 Issue 6 Jan - Feb 2016
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Tracing the history and origins of India's Republic Day
Dr R. Dhanedhar and Dr Narender Yadav
Friday, February 19, 2016

Asalute of 31 Guns to the President heralded the birth of Indian Republic shortly before 1030 hours on January 26, 1950. It was 894 days after the country attained the dominion status following the end of British rule.  The ceremony was held in the brilliantly decorated Darbar Hall of the Government House (earlier called the Viceroy House) and attended by about 500 prominent personalities including Dr Soekarno, the President of Indonesian Republic.

The transition of India from a British colony to a sovereign and democratic Republic was indeed a long journey. During the freedom struggle, the idea of Complete Independence (Purna Swaraj) was put forth by young Indian leaders like Jawaharlal Nehru, Subhas Chandra Bose and others at Madras Session of Indian National Congress in 1927. Meanwhile, Lord Birkenhead, the Secretary of State for India challenged the Indian leaders even “to produce a constitution which carried behind it a fair measure of general agreement among the great peoples of India”. The challenge was taken seriously and a committee was set up under the Chairmanship of Motilal Nehru to prepare a draft constitution. The draft constitution (known as Nehru Report) which was compiled within a limited time frame, provided for a bicameral, sovereign Parliament, with similar powers as enjoyed by other dominions of Canada and Australia within the British Empire. Since the challenge of Lord Birkenhead had been met, Congress desired the British Government to accept the Nehru Report by the end of 1929, failing which it would launch a new civil disobedience movement. Meanwhile, Lord Irwin, the Viceroy after his visit to England in October 1929 stated that following the Simon Commission’s final report, a Round Table Conference would be held in London to get the greatest measure of agreement among all Indian parties to the proposals (called Irwin Declaration). But in his meeting with Gandhi, Motilal and Jinnah on 23 December, Irwin declined to commit any concession or clear the Government stand about the Round Table Conference. Following these events, the Congress Session of December 29-31, 1929 presided over by Jawaharlal Nehru declared Complete Independence (Purna Swaraj) and Republic Status as the ultimate goal for India. On 31 December 1929, as the clock struck the midnight hour and ushered in the New Year, the National Flag, Tri-colour was unfurled on the banks of river Ravi.

January 1930 was a month of high enthusiasm in India. The preparation for Civil Disobedience Movement had commenced. But no date was fixed for it. It was left to Mahatma Gandhi to decide. Finally, the Congress Working Committee passed a resolution on 2 January 1930 ‘to carry the message of Purna Swaraj (Complete Independence) to the remotest villages in India and this Committee chose Sunday, January 26, 1930 as a Day of celebration’. Gandhi exhorted the nation to celebrate the Day as ‘Complete Independence Day’. It was declared that it would be ‘a crime against man and God’ to submit any longer to British rule.  Consequently, on January 26, 1930 Tri-colour was hoisted in different parts of the country as a symbolic gesture signifying Purna Swaraj. Millions of Indians took a pledge of complete independence. Long processions were organized in various Indian cities. Since then the country celebrated the day with great fervor every year. 

Events of January 1930 were followed by Civil Disobedience Movement, Individual Satyagraha and Quit India Movement among others. These forced the British Government to reconsider their stand on delaying independence to India. Indian contribution to Second World War, international support to Indian cause, rise of Indian National Army and resistance of Indian armed forces against British rule further strengthened Indian cause of independence.  British Government was now forced to initiate certain constructive and concrete steps. Consequently, the Cabinet Mission was sent to India in 1946.

The Indian Constituent Assembly was formed after negotiations between the Indian leaders and members of British Cabinet Mission. It had its first meeting on December 9, 1946. The objective of the assembly was to give India a constitution, which could serve a lasting purpose. After long discussions and deliberations, the Indian Constitution was finalised and adopted officially on November 26, 1950. The constitution came into force on January 26, 1950.

The Governor General Rajgopalachari said ‘I have received a communication from Secretary of the Constituent Assembly of India that the Constituent Assembly met on Tuesday, January 24, 1950 and has in accordance with the constitution elected Dr Rajendra Prasad to the Office of the President of the Union of India’.

On January 26, 1950 Dr Rajendra Prasad took oath as the first President of India at the Darbar Hall in the Government House (later Rashtrapati Bhawan) and made a brief speech on the occasion. This was just after the proclamation of the Republic of India read out by the retiring Governor General C Rajagopalachari. This was followed by the Presidential drive along a five mile route to the Irwin Stadium (later National Stadium) where the President unfurled the Union Flag. The drive started at 2.30 p.m. from Government House. Thousands of people assembled and occupied the streets, tree tops and all available vantage points along the route. Proud Indians welcomed their President, cheering him with shouts of ‘Jai’. The drive ended at 3.45 p.m. at Irwin Stadium where three thousand officers and men of the Armed Forces and Police with massed bands had assembled for a ceremonial parade. About 15,000 people witnessed this magnificent first Republic Day parade.   

Standing in an Army jeep and accompanied by the Parade Commander, Brigadier JS Dhillon, the President inspected the Parade. Standing on the main stand the President took the salute of the march past. The parade included the contingents from Infantry, Cavalry, Navy and Air Force. A Boys’ unit of the Punjab Regiment and some police contingents also participated in the Parade. The parade was greatly appreciated by the citizens who acknowledged it with repeated cheers. Seven massed bands representing the three services played martial music. Among the most impressive items on the agenda was the firing of ‘feu-de-joie’, combined with National Anthem and guns salute to the President of India. Millions of people all over the country celebrated this historic occasion. Proclamation of Indian Republic was read out in all states of the Indian Union.

After India became a Republic, the new constitution was adopted. Ashoka Emblem of Sarnath was selected as the National Emblem. This followed some changes in the names of units of defence services as also in their flags and badges. The title of ‘Royal’ awarded to services and some corps was dropped. The Crown appearing on caps, buttons and ranks of officers was replaced by Ashoka Lions (National Emblem). New Gallantry Awards were instituted to honour the brave soldiers of India.


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