Every year on January 26, India commemorates the adoption of the constitution in 1950, when the former South Asian British colony turned into a sovereign, democratic, and republic nation after achieving independence in 1947.
The day is remembered as a watershed point in the contemporary history of the world’s largest democracy, when power was transferred from the post-independence monarchy to the Indian people.
It has become a time to commemorate the South Asian powerhouse’s democratic traditions and military might, as well as its cultural and regional diversity.
This year’s 74th Republic Day will be honoured, as in previous years, with a magnificent military and cultural parade on Kartavya Path, the freshly restored three-kilometer-long broadway that is part of Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s ambitious Central Vista project in New Delhi’s centre.
The ceremony will be attended by India’s newly appointed President Droupadi Murmu, Mr Modi, his cabinet colleagues, opposition leaders, foreign diplomats, and the Republic Day chief guest Egyptian President Abdel Fattah El Sisi, after a two-year hiatus owing to the pandemic.
Why is it celebrated?
Leaders of India’s independence struggle, notably Mahatma Gandhi and Jawarharlal Nehru, thought that the country should have a sovereign, democratic, and republic government. However, even after independence, India remained a monarchy as part of the British Commonwealth.
After Nehru became the first Prime Minister of independent India and cobbled together a cross-ideological cabinet, the country began the long and arduous process of drafting a new Constitution, which included input from leaders of various political and socioeconomic groups.
After roughly three years of drafting, the Constitution was officially ratified on January 26, 1950, and India was declared a republic.
Camels and Missiles
On this day, India displays its defence capabilities to the globe, showing cutting-edge land, air, and sea military weapons.
It is customary to pay respects to the dead troops at the war memorial.
The annual national celebration starts with a 21-gun salute. The President then hoists the national flag and sings the national song in front of thousands of residents.
The celebrations begin with the recipients of gallantry awards saluting the President in open military jeeps, followed by a show of fighter jets, missiles, and military devices that roll down the broadway in front of a crowd of onlookers.
A march-past of various armed forces, police, and paramilitary battalions is then performed. The President, who is also the Commander-in-Chief of the Indian Armed Forces, takes the salute.
For decades, soldiers brandishing assault rifles and perched atop adorned camels have been a centrepiece of the procession.
Camel-mounted soldiers patrol the inhospitable Thar desert at Pakistan’s border. Other military contingents demonstrate acrobatic talents and daredevils, such as the Indian Army performing stunts on motorcycles such as constructing human pyramids and riding bikes over fire rings.
The military display is followed by cultural and regional floats representing many states and cultural groups, as well as musical and dance acts.
A colourful parade with tableaux from many states highlights the cultural diversity and history of various Indian states.
On the broadway that connects the iconic India Gate to the President’s House, thousands of schoolchildren perform dance and showcase cultural activities.
Smaller events, including as paramilitary and police parades, are held in state capitals, where state governors hoist the Indian flag and salute.
Who comes out to celebrate Republic Day?
Many high-profile worldwide leaders have attended India’s republic day celebrations throughout the last 74 years. The principal guest is often a country’s head of state or government. The invitation is regarded as a significant honour, as it is an opportunity for the country to enhance ties with New Delhi.
The first chief guest at the 1950 Republic Day was Indonesian President Sukarno. It was followed by Nepal’s King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah.
In 1955, New Delhi hosted Pakistan’s Governor-General Malik Ghulam Muhammad. The Duke of Edinburgh, Prince Philip, attended Republic Day in 1959, followed by Queen Elizabeth II in 1961.
Lord Louis Mountbatten, the viceroy of colonial India in 1947 and then its governor-general until 1948, returned as the chief guest for the Republic Day celebrations in 1964.
In 1967, the primary visitor was Afghanistan’s King Mohammed Zahir Shah.
In 1995, the principal guest was Nelson Mandela, South Africa’s first president. In 2006, Saudi King Abdullah bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, in 2007, Russian President Vladimir Putin, and in 2008, French President Nicolas Sarkozy.
Shinzo Abe, Prime Minister of Japan, in 2014, and Barack Obama, President of the United States, in 2015. Sheikh Mohamed, Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces at the time, paid a visit to the UAE in 2017.
Former Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro was the keynote speaker at the 2020 Republic Day celebration. British Prime Minister Boris Johnson cancelled his visit in 2021 because to Covid.