Why Republic Day is celebrated
- 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.
- Being republican is an ideal to which we are meant to consistently aspire.
- It is because we cherish being a republic that on every January 26 since 1950, we celebrate this founding moment.
Features of republic
- 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).
- However, the most pernicious quality about monarchy is that it subjects people to the whim and fancy of one person, to his arbitrary will.
- All the decisions affecting us are taken without discussion, mysteriously, privately, and expressed as revealed truth.
- The entire decision-making process remains close to his chest.
- It contains in itself 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
- 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’.
- This contrasts with monarchical form of government which entails surrender to the arbitrary power of another person, allowing whimsical intrusion in our choices, living at the mercy of the master and breeds slavery.
- Those who live for long periods under subjection of others tend to develop slavishness.
- 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.
‘Republic’ and ‘democratic’
- Ancient Roman republics were not inclusive and had aristocratic clan-republics which were far from being democratic.
- In ancient Greece too, slaves, women, and foreigners were not considered citizens and excluded from decision-making.
- 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.
- 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.