1. Why Republic Day is celebrated
India is a republic only when its laws result from free public discussion and pass open scrutiny
The Preamble to the Constitution declares that India is a ‘Republic’. This self-description must be taken seriously: being a republic is integral to India’s political identity. Moreover, this is not just a descriptive but also a strong, ethical, normative claim. Being republican is an ideal to which we are meant to consistently aspire, and when we go astray, we should know that we have done something wrong, feel remorse, and make amends. If our political identity loses its republican character, we must quickly act to restore it. It is because we cherish being a republic that on every January 26 since 1950, we celebrate this founding moment. The parade and the ritual surrounding it are meaningless unless we get the spirit behind the event.
What is meant by a republic and what is its significance? For a start, the primary collective intent behind a republic is anti-monarchical. The Greeks defined monarchy as the ‘rule of one (mono)’, a form of government where one person rules and all others obey; one is sovereign, all others his subjects. We usually associate it with the hereditary rule of Maharajas and Maharanis but in the Greek definition of the term, it also covers rule by modern dictators (autocracy). But what is wrong with the rule of one person? Why fear rule by one person? Perhaps the most pernicious quality about monarchy is that it subjects people to the whim and fancy of one person, to his arbitrary will. One day he likes us and gives us, say a land grant. The next day, he withdraws the grant and puts us in jail. All powers are vested in him. God-like, he becomes judge and jury, makes and executes laws, decides when they are violated, and rewards and punishes as he pleases. All these decisions affecting us are taken without discussion, mysteriously, privately, and expressed as revealed truth. The entire decision-making process remains close to his chest. Hidden from everyone, it brooks neither transparency nor accountability. It is this tyrannical potential of the rule of one person, the absolute and arbitrary use of power that we dread.
Government by discussion
What alternative does a republic offer? The English word ‘republic’ is derived from the Latin ‘Res publica’ — the public thing. This translates in the political domain into decision-making in the open, in full view of all. A republic then is associated with what we today call the ‘public sphere’, an open space where people put forward claims about what is good for the community, what is in collective interest. After discussing, debating and deliberating upon them, they reach decisions about which laws to have and what course of action to take. A republic is ‘government by free and open discussion’.
The contrast between monarchical and republican forms of government could not be sharper. Monarchy entails surrender to the arbitrary power of another person, allowing whimsical intrusion in our choices, living at the mercy of the master. It breeds slavery.
Those who live for long periods under subjection of others tend to develop slavishness, a mental torpor difficult to dispel. Silenced, they lose a vibrant sense of their own agency, are rendered without the capacity to think for themselves or take decisions about their own lives. For this reason, Gandhi used the idea of Swaraj to challenge not only political colonisation by the British, but the colonisation of our minds. It is because rule by one makes people unfree and enslaves them that the republic, its alternative, is strongly associated with freedom. To have a republic is to have a free people. This is why Gandhi’s swaraj is an important republican idea. And also why the republican tradition emphasises the importance of citizenship. After all, to be a citizen is to belong to a political community where one can express oneself and act freely. Citizens alone have political liberty. Without it, we are mere subjects.
For republic-lovers, political liberty means not unbridled freedom to do whatever one pleases (negative liberty), but to live by laws made by citizens themselves, that are a product of their own will, not the arbitrary will of others. This explains why republics have a constitution generated by a deliberative body of citizens which provides the basic law of the land, the fundamental framework of governance. The phrase “We, the People” in the Constitution is not a mere literary embellishment but central to a republican constitution. The willingnessto live by self-made regulations but enforced by public power or the state also means that those who value a republic are not against states per se but against those that take away our political freedom.
‘Republic’ and ‘democratic’
It appears from what is said above that the word ‘republic’ covers all that is meant by the term ‘democratic’. Our own Constituent Assembly initially took the view that since the word ‘republic’ contains the word ‘democratic’, it may be unnecessary to use both. This would have been in keeping with the French republican tradition where the two terms are used interchangeably. Yet, after announcing its commitment to sever its links with an external, imperial monarch, and with all existing and future claims of local rajas and make India a republic, B.R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru conceded that since an undemocratic republic is conceivable, a separate commitment to democratic institutions is necessary.
This decision was correct. It was wise to keep both terms in the Preamble. The idea of the republic conveys that decisions shall be made not by a single individual but by citizens after due deliberation in an open forum. But this is consistent with a narrow criterion of who counts as a citizen. Ancient Roman republics were not inclusive. Ancient India probably had aristocratic clan-republics which were far from democratic. In ancient Greece, slaves, women, and foreigners were not considered citizens and excluded from decision-making.
Indeed, for many Greek thinkers, democracy had a negative connotation precisely because it was believed to involve everyone, including plebeians, what we contemptuously call ‘the mob’. What the term ‘democratic’ brings to our Constitution is that citizenship be available to everyone, regardless of their wealth, education, gender, perceived social ranking, religion, race, or ideological beliefs. The word ‘democracy’ makes the republic inclusive. No one is excluded from citizenship. For example, all have the right to vote. At the same time, if voting, for practical reasons, is restricted only to choosing representatives who, in the name of the people, make laws and policies, then citizens must at least have the right to be properly informed, seek transparency and accountability from their government.
A republic must, at the very least, have perpetually vigilant citizens who act as watchdogs, monitor their representatives, and retain the right to contest any law or policy made on their behalf. By going beyond mere counting of heads, the term ‘republic’ brings free public discussion to our democratic constitution. It gives depth to our democracy. It is mandatory that decisions taken by the representatives of the people be properly deliberated, remain open to scrutiny, and be publicly, legally contested even after they have been made.
When the farmers came out on the streets to peacefully challenge the three farm laws made by the current government, they exercised not only their democratic rights but also exhibited the highest of republican virtues. It is to celebrate such political acts of citizens that we have the Republic Day.
When India achieved its independence in 1947, it did not have its own Constitution. In fact, its laws were generally based on a a common law system and a modified version of the “Government of India Act, 1935″. Hence, a few days later, a drafting committee was set up to draft a Constitution for the newly independent India. It was Dr BR Ambedkar who was chosen as the head of the drafting committee and it is him who is largely to be credited for the Indian Constitution that all Indian citizens abide by today. Thus, after two years of immense hardwork, the Indian Constitution was adopted and effect on 26 January 1950.
Additionally, the date 26 January was chosen as it was the same date in 1929, when the Indian National Congress issued the Declaration of Indian Independence (Purna Swaraj).
It was also on 26 Janaury 1950, that Dr Rajendra Prasad, the first president of India came into power.
2. The history of the Beating Retreat ceremony
What are the changes and additions to this year’s Republic Day ceremonies? Who selects the list of tunes for the band?
Beating Retreat is a centuries-old military tradition going back to the days when troops disengaged from battle at sunset. As soon as the buglers sounded the ‘retreat’, troops ceased fighting and withdrew from the battlefield. It is for this reason that the custom of standing still during the sounding of the ‘retreat’ has been retained to this day.
The ceremony in India is marked by the lowering of flags at dusk. A series of lights illuminate the outlines of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, North Block, South Block and Parliament House.
This year, the hymn ‘Abide With Me’ has been dropped and replaced with a popular Indian tune ‘Ae mera watan ke logon’, which was composed by C. Ramachandra and for which Kavi Pradeep provided lyrics. There will also be 44 buglers, 16 trumpeters and 75 drummers as well as a drone show with over 1,000 drones built by an Indian start-up and a laser projection.
The story so far: This year’s Republic Day parade on January 26 and the Beating Retreat ceremony on January 29 have generated a lot of attention and discussion for a variety of reasons. In India, the latter ceremony traces its origins to the early 1950s when Major Roberts of the Indian Army developed a unique ceremony of display by the massed bands, according to the Defence Ministry.
What are the origins of the Beating Retreat?
Beating Retreat is a centuries-old military tradition going back to the days when troops disengaged from battle at sunset. According to the website of the Royal Irish Virtual Military Gallery, orders from James II’s army, dated June 18, 1690, directed drums to beat a retreat at night and, in 1694, William III’s army also ordered this: “The Drum Major and Drummers of the Regiment which gives a Captain of the Main Guard are to beat the Retreat through the large street, or as may be ordered. They are to be answered by all the Drummers of the guards, and by four Drummers of each Regiment in their respective Quarters.”
In the past, as soon as the buglers sounded the ‘retreat’, troops ceased fighting, sheathed their arms and withdrew from the battlefield. It is for this reason that the custom of standing still during the sounding of the ‘retreat’ has been retained to this day. Colours and standards are cased and flags lowered at ‘retreat’.
“Drumbeats recall the days when troops, billeted in towns and cities, were recalled to their quarters at an appointed time in the evening. Based on these military traditions, the ceremony of Beating Retreat creates a mood of nostalgia for the times gone by,” a statement from the Defence Ministry said.
How is the Beating Retreat in India conducted?
The ceremony is conducted every year on January 29 at Vijay Chowk to mark the formal conclusion of the Republic Day celebrations. The ceremony is graced by the President of India as the Supreme Commander of the armed forces. It is marked by the lowering of flags at dusk. A series of lights illuminate the outlines of the Rashtrapati Bhavan, North Block, South Block and Parliament House. It is an event much awaited by the public and always inspires awe. For a long time the bulbs were sodium bulbs which in the last 5-6 years have been replaced with multi-colour LED lights.
How has the ceremony evolved?
For a long time, it was only the Services bands that took part in the ceremony in line with military traditions. It was only recently that the musical bands of the Central Armed Police Forces (CAPF) and the Delhi Police were included.
The list of tunes for the Army is selected by the Ceremonial Welfare-I directorate and the respective branches in the Navy and Air Force. The list is then compiled by the Adjutant General’s branch and a presentation is given to the Principal Personnel Officers Committee (PPOC). A final decision on the list of tunes is taken by PPOC, according to an officer who was involved in the process earlier. Until last year the ceremony came to a close with ‘Abide With Me’, the popular 19th century Christian hymn, followed by the ever-popular tune ‘Sare Jahan se Acha’, which was played as the bands marched out. However, this year ‘Abide With Me’ has been dropped and a popular Indian tune ‘Ae mera watan ke logon’, which was composed by C. Ramachandra for which Kavi Pradeep provided lyrics, has been included. Also, all the tunes this year are Indian to coincide with the 75th year of Independence, defence officials said.
The officer cited earlier said the endeavour is always that a maximum number of Indian tunes are included except a few tunes like ‘Sare Jahan se Acha’ and ‘Abide With Me’ which has been dropped this year. In general most tunes are repeated for more than 5-6 years before being changed, the officer added.
In the last few years, in addition to military instruments like pipes and drums, traditional Indian musical instruments have also been included.
This year, 44 buglers, 16 trumpeters and 75 drummers will enthral the audience during the Beating Retreat. In a first this year, there is a drone show with over 1,000 drones built by an Indian start-up as well as a laser projection.
3. Equality for what?
We must incorporate the right to equality into our political vocabulary to arrest deepening inequality
Poverty is the effect of inequality as well as the prime signifier of inequality. In a report that came out in 2017, it was found that income inequality in India is at the highest level since 1922 and that the top 1% earners corner 22% of income. This can only have increased during the pandemic.
To be unequal is to be denied the opportunity to participate in social, economic, and cultural transactions from a plane of equality. This violates the code of justice. People who have been wronged are entitled to ask for justice. If justice is not delivered, inequalities are reinforced and compounded over time.
The implications of inequality violates a basic democratic norm: the equal standing of citizens. There is therefore urgent need, in the face of Government inaction and insensitivity towards people trapped in inequality as a social relation, to invoke the collective conscience of Indian citizens.
Ahead of the upcoming Union Budget, the Congress has stated that the Narendra Modi government should work to address the ‘economic epidemic’. They said that the income disparity between the rich and poor has increased during the pandemic. In this article dated September 14, 2017, Neera Chandhoke explains how inequality is fundamentally against justice and democracy.
In 1820 the German philosopher Georg Wilhelm Friedrich Hegel, in his magnificently crafted Philosophy of Right, had written with some despair of the moral squalor and of the ravages that poverty brings in its wake. The state of poverty, he argued, is not an aberration, it is a product of industrial society, of the overproduction and underconsumption which marks this social order. But it is precisely society that banishes its victims to the twilight zone of collective life. Here, removed from the advantages of solidarity that civil society offers, the poor are reduced to a heap of fragmented atoms, rabble, poebel. When the standard of living of a large mass of people falls below a certain subsistence level, he wrote, we see a loss of the sense of right and wrong, of honesty and of self-respect. “Against nature man can claim no right, but once society is established, poverty immediately takes the form of a wrong done to one class by another.”
Hegel suggests that poverty is a social phenomenon. One, society is complicit in the creation and recreation of poverty. Destitution, that is, is the outcome of a skewed economy. Two, poverty breeds unfortunate consequences, such as suffering, which seriously demoralises human beings. Three, the existence of large numbers of the poor pose a direct threat to the social order, simply because the poor are (justly) resentful of their exclusion from the benefits of society.
We should be seriously reflecting on Hegel’s criticism of a society that refuses to correct the wrongs it has heaped on its own people, in the light of the research findings of the economist Thomas Piketty and his colleague Lucas Chancel.
Inequality in India
In a paper aptly titled ‘Indian income inequality, 1922-2014: From British Raj to Billionaire Raj?’, they conclude that income inequality in India is at the highest level since 1922, when the country’s income tax law was conceived, and that the top 1% earners corner 22% of income. These research findings should send a powerful warning signal to power elites, leaders who prefer to concentrate on the politics of beef, brutal repression of dissent, and curtailment of basic human freedoms, even as the lives of thousands of Indians are mired in mind-numbing poverty.
There is more to the proposition that some persons are poor beyond belief, and others are rich beyond belief in India. P is poor, we can say, when she does not possess access to the basic resources which enable q, or s, or m to consume nutritious food, avoid ill health, attend school, take up a job, and own a home, let alone go on holiday or possess a car. This implies that p is not just poor, she is unequal to q, s, or m, since the latter three, unlike p, have access to certain advantages that p does not. Poverty is the effect of inequality as well as the prime signifier of inequality. And inequality is demeaning.
Implications for society
Arguably, inequality is not only a matter of statistics. It is a shattering reflection on the kind of society we live in. Logically, if the economic ordering of society is responsible for ill-being, it is obliged to remedy the wrongs that it has visited upon the heads of the poor. This constitutes a basic code of justice. People who have been wronged are entitled to ask for justice. If justice is not delivered, inequalities are reinforced and compounded over time.
Resultantly, people fated to occupy the lowliest rungs of the social ladder are not only denied access to basic material requirements that enable them to live a decent life, they are likely to be socially overlooked, politically irrelevant except in times of elections when their votes bring parties into power, disdained, and subjected to disrespect in and through the practices of everyday life. To be unequal is to be denied the opportunity to participate in social, economic, and cultural transactions from a plane of equality.
Starkly put, the presence of massive inequality reflects sharply and pejoratively on the kind of social relations that we find in India. Because these social relationships are indisputably unequal, they cannot but be entrenched in massive discrimination and exploitation. Can we reflect on inequality without taking on exploitation and discrimination? And unless we confront these background inequalities directly, will not inequality continue to be produced and reproduced along with the production and reproduction of a lopsided social order, indeed as an integral part of this order?
Morality of mutual respect
Let us not understate the implications of inequality, it violates a basic democratic norm: the equal standing of citizens. Persons have equal standing because each human being has certain capacities in common with other human beings, for instance, the capacity to make her own history in concert with other human beings. Of course the histories that persons make might not be the histories they chose to make, but this is not the issue at hand. What is important is that each person realises this ability.
The principle of equal standing generates at least two robust principles of democratic morality. For one, equality is a relation that obtains between persons in respect of some fundamental characteristic that they share in common. Equality is, morally speaking, a default principle. Therefore, and this is the second postulate, persons should not be discriminated against on grounds such as race, caste, gender, ethnicity, sexual preferences, disability, or class. These features of the human condition are morally irrelevant.
These two postulates of political morality yield the following implications. To treat persons equally because they possess equal standing is to treat them with respect. The idea that one should treat persons with respect not only because some of these persons possess some special skill or talent, for example skilled cricketers, gifted musicians, or literary giants, but because persons are human beings, is by now part of common sense morality. If someone were to ask, ‘equality for what’, we can answer that equality assures equal standing and respect, and respect is an essential prerequisite for the making of human beings who can participate in the multiple transactions of society from a position of confidence and self-respect. If they cannot do so, the government is simply not taking the well-being of its citizens seriously.
There is urgent need, in the face of government inaction and insensitivity towards people trapped in inequality as a social relation to invoke the collective conscience of Indian citizens. If the right to equality is violated, citizens should be exercised or agitated about this violation. But for this to occur, for society to feel deeply about the right on offer, we have to incorporate the right to equality into political thinking, into our values, and into political vocabularies. The project requires the harnessing of creative imagination and courage on the one hand, and careful reasoning, persuasion, and dialogue on the other. The task also demands the investment of rather high degrees of energy and time. But this is essential because a political consensus on what constitutes, or should constitute the basic rules of society, is central to our collective lives. The political is not a given, it has to be constructed, as Karl Marx had told us long ago, through determined and sustained political intervention.
Rights to equality
Right to equality: Equality before law and equal protection of laws
- Includes legal persons as well
- Equality before law: British version
- Equal protection of laws: American constitution
- It permits reasonable classification of persons, objects and transactions by the law but it should not be arbitrary
- Note: In India, constitution is the source of individual rights
Exceptions to equality
- President and governor not answerable to court for their official acts
- No criminal proceedings shall be instituted or continued against the President or the governor in any court during his term of office
- No process for the arrest or imprisonment of the President or governor
- Civil proceeding on personal acts only after two months notice
- No liability of true reporting in newspapers
- No member of Parliament shall be liable for anything said or vote
- Foreign sovereigns enjoy immunity; this includes even UNO
No citizen of India shall be discriminated on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth
- Usage of two keywords- ‘discrimination’ and ‘only’
- Ground mentioned in the article: religion, race, caste, sex or place of birth
- The second provision in this article is applicable to even private individuals and legal persons
- Special provisions for women and children
- Advancement of socially and educationally backward classes of citizens or for the SC and ST
- Provision for education of the above could be made for education in aided and unaided
Article 16: equality of opportunity in public employment
Addition of two more grounds: Descent or residence
- Parliament can prescribe residence as condition for certain employment
- State can provide reservation for any backward classes if they are inadequately represented
- Religious denomination exception
Abolition of untouchability: article 17
- Protection of civil rights act, 1955
- Term untouchability has not been defined anywhere in the constitution
It is available against even private individuals
Article 18: abolition of titles
- State cannot confer titles until it is military or academic
- Prohibits a citizen of India from accepting titles from foreign countries
- Foreigner who holds office of profit should take consent of the President
- No gift also for a foreigner without President’s approval