January 28, 2016 No.

MEMRI Scholar Tufail Ahmad In Article Marking India's Republic Day: 'We The People Of India'

To mark India's Republic Day, MEMRI South Asia Studies Project director Tufail Ahmad wrote an article titled "We the People of India." The article appeared in Hindi in the Dainik Jagran daily on January 26, 2016, and in English on the Satyavijayi website.

The following is the article:  


"Republic Day Is A Moment Of Reflection About Who We Are"

"On January 26, India celebrated its 67th Republic Day. French President Francois Hollande was the chief guest at the Republic Day parade in New Delhi, in which the French military also took part. This was the first time a foreign military contingent participated in the Republic Day parade.

"This day was first marked as Independence Day in 1930, demanding Purna Swaraj (complete self-rule) from the British colonial rule. In 1950, on this day the people of India gave themselves the Constitution, thereby creating a modern republic.

"As Indians, Republic Day is a moment of reflection about who we are. While Indian classics such as the Vedas, Ramayana and Mahabharata teach us 'who we are,' 'what our identity is,' and 'where we come from,' the Indian Constitution teaches us 'who we want to become' and 'where we are headed to' in our nation's democratic life. The names of the places mentioned in Ramayana and Mahabharata still exist among us. Village republics existed in ancient India, but ideas about equality and liberty of the individual came to us from the Greek philosophy and the European movement of democratic ideas known as the Enlightenment through the British rule." 

"The Engine Of Change In The Indian Republic Is Democracy"

"The engine of change in the Indian Republic is democracy, which is reaffirmed every five years by adult Indians through the conscious act of voting. Democracy refers to demokratia - a political system that began during the 5th to 4th centuries BC when demos (the people) of Athens revolted against the dynasties of tyrants and established their own kratos (rule). But as a system of government, democracy did not flourish. Later in the 18th century, the European Enlightenment engendered a flood of egalitarian ideas, resulting in the American and French revolutions. In 1776, the U.S. became the first democracy. Now the number of democracies and semi-democracies has risen among the 193 members of the United Nations.

"Pondering how societies progress, French sociologist Emile Durkheim argued that traditional societies were based on consensus originating from similarities of beliefs and identities, but modern societies derived their consensus from differences. Consensus in modern India is derived from diversities and is leveraged by political parties, media and a commentariat of youths active on social media ÔÇö and not by religions and castes as it used to be in the past. While our ancestors identified themselves as members of castes, tribes and religious communities, our youths today view themselves as individuals - in other words, as Indian citizens.

"In political scientist Sunil Khilnani's words, the Indian Republic has 'etched itself into the imagination of Indians in a way that no previous political agency had ever done.' Some countries in the West are religious states, notably the UK, but their societies are predominantly secular with no role for religion in policy-making. India and the U.S. are overwhelmingly religious societies, but the state is secular. 'We the people' - the opening words of the Indian Constitution - are borrowed from the U.S. constitution which begins with the words: 'We the people of the United States.' The Indian Constitution helps us overcome our differences, uniting us in a political consensus." 

"Modern India Is A Totally New Country"; "Modern Democracies Are Based On The Enlightenment's Egalitarian Ideas"

"As a system of government, democracy creates new worlds, new hopes for citizens. As a model of politics it empowers citizens with political liberty and equal rights. To illustrate: Saudi Arabia is a theocratic kingdom that serves religion, not people. Contrary to this, Britain is a democracy that empowers its citizens despite being a nominal kingdom. The Indian Republic treats everyone - men or women, upper or lower castes, Hindus or Muslims - as equal citizens. Our youths live in a free society. The Indian Constitution shapes their ideas of what a good society should look like. In times of conflict, our youths look up to the Supreme Court to show them a sense of direction.

"In February 2014, Narendra Modi, now the prime minister, said: 'We are one of the youngest nations.' Modern India is a totally new country; its people are new; their aspirations are new; their attitudes are new. Of 1.25 billion Indians, 50 percent are under 25 years of age; nearly 65 percent Indians are below 35 years of age. This is essentially a new political population, which has grown up in an atmosphere of freedom. It has not witnessed the Partition's emotional scars, or the torments of the Emergency rule. This generation of Indians has grown up in political liberty, which emanates from the Constitution that we began enforcing from January 26, 1950.

"Our youth has witnessed bitter election campaigns, powerful television debates, and quarrelsome parliamentary discussions, but in this process they have understood that our turbulent politics defines the course of our nation's democratic life and shapes India's cohesion. Consequently, the new generation of Indians are subjecting their own ideas to rational criticism on Twitter and Facebook. To outsiders, India might appear as a divided house but our differences themselves are the source of our unity. Indians will retain their identities as Hindus, Muslims, Tamilians, Biharis or others, but democracy is the outstanding factor that defines Indian society's general will generated from differences and protected by the Constitution.

"Modern democracies are based on the Enlightenment's egalitarian ideas. In his book A Revolution of the Mind, Jonathan Israel notes that the Enlightenment was 'quintessentially defined by its insistence on full freedom of thought, expression, and the press, and by identifying democracy as the best form of government.' These values are basic to the Indian Republic. For 1.25 billion Indians to live in happiness and liberty, we must also be willing to defend the republic. It means that we must also defend the rights of all citizens, not just ours.

"Also, the world is in a period of conflict. Large numbers of human beings are dying in the name of Islam in Somalia, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Afghanistan and Pakistan. In India, the liberty of Indians is secured by our military. We can take our families to watch a movie in a peaceful environment because Indian military safeguards our security like a 24×7 antibiotic. Therefore, Indians must also realize that it is their duty to support the military which defends the Indian Republic."