Indian-Americans and Indians living around the United States have begun celebrating India’s 70th Republic Day even as India awaits Jan. 26, the date on which the country’s Constitution came into force in 1950. It is possibly, the most important day for a multicultural, multi-religious country that declared itself a secular democracy.
Today, India’s population is a whopping 1.3 billion, way more than the approximately 359 million in 1950. The journey to maintain its identity has been difficult, but the people have adhered generally to those goals despite many obstacles including the 1975 National Emergency, communal riots, as well as the ongoing vibrant controversy over the relationship between religion and state.
On Jan. 26, 1930, the then umbrella party, Indian National Congress, declared Purna Swaraj, distancing itself from being a “dominion” of the British Empire. That was the reason leaders of the freedom movement chose it as the date for formally adopting a Constitution that declared it as a “Sovereign Socialist Secular Democratic Republic” with a parliamentary system of government. While the Constitution of India was adopted by the Constituent Assembly on Jan. 26, 1949, it came into force on Jan. 26, 1950.
Every year, the leader of a nation or nations is invited as chief guest to witness India’s progress, with much pomp and show on Raj Path, en route from Rashtrapati Bhavan to India Gate and beyond. Indians in the diaspora are glued to their television sets to watch the live telecast of the colorful event. Last year, leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations were the Chief Guests.
There are many events scheduled in the run-up to Republic Day. From the Telugu associations to seniors organizations, Indian-Americans are holding Republic Day celebrations around the U.S. Elected officials in the U.S. recognize the importance of this day to their Indian-origin constituents, and hold special events to celebrate the day. In Chicago alone there are several events, including one on Jan. 28, by the Cook County Treasurer Maria Pappas who according to a note, “will be hosting an informal celebration with the Indian-American community and business leaders within the Chicago area to commemorate Indian Republic Day,” her office said. The Federation of Indian Associations are also geared to celebrate on Jan. 26. The India Association of North Texas, and the Indian Students Graduate Association in College Station, TX, to the Federation of Indo Americans of Northern California, and the San Francisco chapter of The Institute of Chartered Accountants of India, as well as a “Grand India Republic Day Celebration” in Los Angeles, to name just a few, apart from the numerous events in and Illinois, Florida, Ohio, and the Eastern Seaboard, are holding celebrations. All this apart from the various Indian Consulates and the Indian Embassy, which scores of Americans attend.
“On Republic Day, Indians and people of Indian heritage across the world commemorate the struggle for independence and self-government that created the world’s largest democracy in India,” Congressman Raja Krishnamoorthi told News India Times in a statement. “Celebrating its 70th Republic Day this year, India has become a symbol to the world of the power of a free people to shed the yoke of colonialism and build a thriving,diverse, democratic nation of their own, Krishnamoorthi added.
In India, in an unprecedented move, this year the Pravasi Bharatiya Diwas is also connected to the Republic Day celebrations. Prime Minister Narendra Modi was set inaugurate the 15th PBD convention at Varanasi this year, where the Prime Minister of Mauritius, Pravind Jugnauth is the chief guest. The theme of the 2019 PBD is “Role of Indian Diaspora in building New India.” Other chief guests at PBD, who will also be there for Republic Day, are Himanshu Gulati, Member of Parliament of Norway, and Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi, Member of Parliament of New Zealand.
Paying heed to the sentiments of the larger diaspora to participate in Kumbh Mela and Republic Day celebrations, the 15th PBD Convention is being organised from 21 to 23 January 2019 instead of 9th January, the Prime Minister’s Office said in a press release. After the Convention, participants will visit Prayagraj for Kumbh Mela on 24th January. They will then go to Delhi on 25th January and witness the Republic Day Parade at New Delhi on 26th January 2019.
“Republic Day is a celebration of an inspiring movement in terms of the unique way a country came into being,” said Suhag Shukla, founder and executive director of the Hindu American Foundation. As an attorney, she told Desi Talk, she often thinks that it was an important step for the founding fathers of India to decide that India would be a secular democracy.
“I don’t know that it has lived up to that promise, but the most important aspect of secularism is that for the health of the state and religion, when either side imposes on the other, both lose,” Shukla opined.