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Republic Day: An Occasion For National Introspection

26/01/2016 8:14 AM IST | Updated 15/07/2016 8:25 AM IST
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On the joyous occasion of the 67th Republic Day, it is useful to ask ourselves a basic question. Why is 26 January almost as important a day in our national life as 15 August? This may seem like a question that school students are expected to answer, but, no, it is important for the civic education of every Indian citizen.

Independence Day was about India getting Swaraj - freedom from colonial rule. Republic Day is about the transforming of Swa-raj, which means self-governance, into Su-raj - good governance. Foreign rule ended on 15 August 1947. But self-rule, in the real sense of the term, began when India adopted the Constitution and declared itself a Republic. The Constitution binds us to follow, and realise, certain lofty ideals and goals as a nation. It not only guides the functioning of the State, it not only specifies the rights of citizens, but it also lays down the duties and responsibilities of the people.

Independence Day was about India getting Swaraj - freedom from colonial rule. Republic Day is about the transforming of Swa-raj, which means self-governance, into Su-raj - good governance.

Therefore, if Independence Day is about celebration, Republic Day is about introspection.

Nehru's insightful speech in the constituent assembly

This point was made most insightfully in a historic speech delivered by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru in the Constituent Assembly on 13 December 1946, when he moved the all-important Resolution on the Aims and Objects of the Constitution. He reminded the makers of the Constitution --- and, indirectly, the people of soon-to-be-independent India -- to remember their responsibility not only as "inheritors of a great past", but also as "trustees of the future". He said: "We, who have this task of Constitution-making, have to think of the tremendous task of the present and the greater prospect of the future and not get lost in seeking small gains for this group or that."

Then, using an expression full of mystical connotation, Nehru added:

"The eyes of our entire past - the 5,000 years of India's history - are upon us. Our past is witness to what we are doing and though the future is still unborn, the future too somehow looks at us."

I am quoting Nehru on Republic Day for two reasons. First, we have created a myth these days that the Constitution was the handiwork of Dr Babasaheb Ambedkar alone. No doubt, as the chairman of the drafting committee of the Constituent Assembly, Ambedkar made a major contribution to the preparation of the Constitution. However, it is simply not true that he was its sole architect. Many others toiled for it, and one of the most valuable and enduring contributions was made by Nehru himself. This is hardly surprising. After all, he was, after Mahatma Gandhi, the second most important leader of India's Freedom Movement. He headed the Interim Government, formed on 2 September 1946, and later became India's first prime minister when India became independent. These days Nehru's name and legacy - especially, his insistent defense of secularism -- are sought to be obliterated by the current BJP-led government. Indeed, many people in the BJP adjudge his legacy to be only negative. This ignorant and arrogant attitude is hurting our Republic today.

[O]ur MPs and MLAs should ask themselves: By creating frequent and noisy adjournments, are we serving the people who have elected us?

But the second reason for quoting Nehru is to remind ourselves that we should "not get lost in seeking small gains for this group or that", and instead strengthen the nation as a whole so that our actions in the present are endorsed and applauded by the "eyes of the past" as well as by the "eyes of the future". What does it mean? It means that all sections of society, indeed all citizens, are required to do honest soul-searching about how we are behaving, and to ask ourselves whether our behavior today would be approved by the generations who lived in the past and also by the generations to come in the future.

All institutions of the Indian State need to do soul-searching

Parliament and State legislatures are the most important democratic institutions created by our Constitution. Therefore, our MPs and MLAs should ask themselves: By creating frequent and noisy adjournments, are we serving the people who have elected us? Is disruption the dharma of our elected representatives, or is it to debate and legislate? And if our Parliament and State legislatures, which are the temples of India's democracy, set a bad example, how can common citizens be expected to conduct themselves in a disciplined manner?

Our ministers and bureaucrats, who form the executive pillar of the Republican State, should ask themselves: Why is the rich-poor divide in India widening sharply? Are we doing enough to ensure economic and social democracy? Surely, without economic and social democracy, mere political democracy (the right to vote once in five years) will remain weak and inadequate. The executive must also introspect on another serious ill-effect of its dereliction of duty. By allowing corruption to join the bloodstream of government machinery, is it not destroying the health of our democratic institutions?

Our judges and lawyers, sadly, belong to that hallowed institution of the Indian State which thinks it is not answerable to the people.

Our judges and lawyers, sadly, belong to that hallowed institution of the Indian State which thinks it is not answerable to the people. Corruption and malpractices in the judiciary is a topic that is not as widely or hotly debated as the malaise in other institutions. Nevertheless, the malaise exists and it is fairly widespread. This problem is compounded by - indeed, it is aided by - the fact that seeking justice in Indian courts is becoming increasingly unaffordable to common citizens. It's almost as if money decides who gets justice in India. Justice delivery is also extremely tardy. Is there any wonder, then, that people's faith in the judiciary has become shaky?

Since the judiciary is showing no self-reforming impulses, and with Parliament lacking the moral authority to question and correct the judiciary, the Indian Republic is suffering from a debility that has seriously affected both the State and society.

Political parties are the backbone of our democratic system of governance, and hence vital to the health of our Republic. A certain amount of competition is an inbuilt requirement of electoral politics. However, should our political parties and their leaders interpret competition to mean perpetual confrontation? Does democracy place no obligation on them to cooperate and build consensus on issues of national and societal importance? Why have our opposition parties become habituated to opposing the very things they supported when they were in power? And is their behavior of mutual intolerance not a major contributor to the growing intolerance in society? One hopes Republic Day becomes an occasion for at least some of our political leaders to think about these uncomfortable questions.

We, the People, should focus more on our duties than on our rights

The Preamble to our Constitution begins with these stirring words -- WE, THE PEOPLE OF INDIA...

The Constitution was adopted in the name of the people. But where do people stand in relation to the Constitution?

[T]he notion that governments should do everything for citizens has done tremendous damage to our national life. It has made the people neglect their own duties and responsibilities.

Today, on Republic Day, we, as common citizens, also need to introspect about our own behaviour. After all, the notion that governments should do everything for citizens has done tremendous damage to our national life. It has made the people neglect their own duties and responsibilities. For example, do we abide by the laws of the land? Do we cooperate with the authorities in the proper organisation of civic life? Do our businesses, especially big businesses, follow the ethics of enterprise? Do we keep our streets, parks, playgrounds, markets, and bus and railway stations clean? Have we rid ourselves of caste and communal prejudices? Do men show respect to women? Do we take quick and effective steps to stop sexual atrocities against women, which, alarmingly, have increased in recent times? Do we take good care of differently abled children and adults in our society, also the aged and the destitute?

There are thousands of such small and not-so-small responsibilities which the citizenry alone has to fulfill. Yet, we have become a nation where people focus less on their own responsibilities and more on their rights - or on what the government should for them.

Republic Day is also an occasion for the Fourth Pillar of our democracy - the media. The power of the media to shape public discourse, and also the functioning of the other three pillars of democracy, has grown tremendously since Independence. However, are media organisations and mediapersons exercising their power in a responsible manner? Do they think that they too must strive to realise the spirit of the Constitution? If media organisations think theirs is merely a business, like any other business, then they do grave injustice both to the Republic and also to their own noble profession.

The Constitution is not a mere book for judges to refer to in courts... It is an essential and sacrosanct guide for the nation and all its constituents...

The Constitution is not a mere book for judges to refer to in courts while adjudicating matters of law. It is an essential and sacrosanct guide for the nation and all its constituents to conduct their affairs, so that India becomes a just, strong, prosperous, harmonious, non-discriminatory and egalitarian Republic, ensuring its own welfare and contributing to the welfare of the entire world.

On 22 January, 1947, Nehru reminded the Constituent Assembly that, as India stood at the end of an era and embarked upon a new age, "our forebears and future generations are watching this undertaking of Constitution-making and possibly blessing it, if we moved aright."

India formally adopted the Constitution on 26 January, 1950. Now the eyes of the past and the future are watching whether we Indians are following the Constitution faithfully or not.

(The writer was an aide to former Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee in the PMO. He welcomes comments at sudheenkulkarni@gmail.com. He tweets at @SudheenKulkarni.)

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