India: Republic Day

India celebrates one of its three national days, Republic Day, on 26 January each year, commemorating the day in 1950 on which the Indian Empire’s new republican constitution came into force.

Although India had gained independence from the United Kingdom over two years earlier, on 15 August 1947, it still had no permanent constitution of its own. Its constitutional law was based on the Government of India Act 1935 as subsequently amended, under which its head of state was King-Emperor George VI and its Governor-General was the last Viceroy under British rule, Earl Mountbatten.

Accordingly a committee under Dr Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar was appointed to draft a constitution. The document they produced was remarkable in its scope, creating a federal governmental set-up with social reform fixed firmly into the mandate of both Union and state governments and – in principle at least – giving the Indian people the right to participate directly in their own government at all levels.

It was also significant in marking the first time that a country remained in the British Commonwealth after rejecting the British Sovereign as its head of state. Previously, renunciation of Dominion status had meant departure from the Commonwealth, as had happened with Ireland under the Republic of Ireland Act 1948. The London Declaration of 1949, under which India agreed to accept the British Sovereign as a “symbol of the free association of its independent member nations and as such the Head of the Commonwealth”, formed the basis for a much looser—and ultimately more sustainable—association.

26 January 1950 was chosen as the date of entry into force of the new Constitution—fittingly, the anniversary of the day in 1930 on which the Indian National Congress resolved to fight for Purna Swaraj, or complete self-rule.

The high point of the celebrations is undoubtedly the Republic Day Parade, held by the Indian Armed Forces in Delhi along Rajpath and on to the Red Fort. The salute is taken by the President of India together with the Chief Guest, who is always the Head of State or Head of Government of another nation.

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