What the editorial is about?
The meaning and significance of a republic
73rd Republic Day Celebration of India
What is meant by being a republican?
- 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. Moreover, this is not just a descriptive but also a strong, ethical, normative claim.
- Being republican is an ideal to which we are meant to consistently aspire, and when we go astray, we should know that we have done something wrong, feel remorse, and make amends.
- If our political identity loses its republican character, we must quickly act to restore it. It is because we cherish being a republic that on every January 26 since 1950, we celebrate this founding moment.
- The parade and the ritual surrounding it are meaningless unless we get the spirit behind the event.
What is meant by a republic and what is its significance?
- 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.
What is wrong with the rule of one person?
- The most pernicious quality about monarchy is that it subjects people to the whim and fancy of one person, to his arbitrary will.
- All these decisions affecting us are taken without discussion, mysteriously, privately, and expressed as revealed truth.
- 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 the collective interest. After discussing, debating and deliberating upon them, they reach decisions about which laws to have and what course of action to take.
- Therefore, A republic is a ‘government by free and open discussion’.
Why do republics have a constitution generated by a deliberative body of citizens?
- 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.
- The phrase “We, the People” in the Constitution is not a mere literary embellishment but central to a republican constitution.
- The willingness to live by self-made regulations but enforced by public power or the state also means that those who value a republic are not against states per se but against those that take away our political freedom.
‘Republic’ and ‘democratic’
- Our own Constituent Assembly initially took the view that since the word ‘republic’ contains the word ‘democratic’, it may be unnecessary to use both. This would have been in keeping with the French republican tradition where the two terms are used interchangeably.
- Yet, after announcing its commitment to sever its links with an external, imperial monarch, and with all existing and future claims of local rajas and make India a republic, B.R. Ambedkar and Jawaharlal Nehru conceded that since an undemocratic republic is conceivable, a separate commitment to democratic institutions is necessary.
- It was wise to keep both terms in the Preamble.
- The idea of the republic conveys that the decisions shall be made not by a single individual but by citizens after due deliberation in an open forum.
- The term ‘democratic’ brings to our Constitution is that citizenship is 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. At the same time, if voting, for practical reasons, is restricted only to choosing representatives who, in the name of the people, make laws and policies, then citizens must at least have the right to be properly informed, seek transparency and accountability from their government.
- 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 the mere counting of heads, the term ‘republic’ brings free public discussion to our democratic constitution. It gives depth to our democracy.
- It is mandatory that decisions taken by the representatives of the people be properly deliberated, remain open to scrutiny, and be publicly, legally contested even after they have been made.