Soon after the Indian National Congress, at the forefront of the country's independence movement, adopted the 'purna swaraj' or complete independence resolution at its Lahore convention on New Year's Day in 1930, Mahatma Gandhi called for a day of celebration on January 26, which till 1947 came to be observed as Independence Day.
A public pledge, drafted by Jawaharlal Nehru, who became India's first prime minister after independence on Aug 15, 1947 — used to be taken on January 26 to assert the "inalienable right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom". To achieve this end, "India must sever the British connection" since "we hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused disaster to our country".
In 1950, the day was chosen to declare India as a republic and announce the adoption of the constitution, which has been described as the country's new 'dharmashastra' (value system) by Granville Austin, an expert on the Indian Constitution. When it came into force, the constitution marked the beginning of "perhaps the greatest political venture that originated in Philadelphia in 1787", to quote Austin again.
As Anthony Eden also said at the time, the "Indian political venture is not a pale imitation of our practice at home, but a magnified and multiplied reproduction on a scale we have never dreamt of. If it succeeds, its influence on Asia is incalculable for good".
None of these accolades have proved wrong. The Indian republic has proved to be a great success story, in all senses of the term. Not only has it stood the test of time by defying the doomsayers, it has built on its durability to act as an example of a thriving multi-religious, multicultural democracy, especially to those countries which attained freedom in the late 1940s and early 1950s.
If the republic had seemed fragile and vulnerable when it came into being six decades ago, the reason was that few believed at the time that democracy would work in a country as poor and diverse as India. While poverty was expected to strengthen the Communists within the country with surreptitious help from Moscow and Beijing, the plurality of language, religion and culture was seen as a fillip to fissiparous tendencies.
Such negative perceptions might have been the result of the fact that experiments in democracy had not succeeded in India's neighbourhood. While Pakistan went under a military dictatorship along with Burma (now Myanmar); China passed from the right-wing autocracy of Chiang Kai-shek to one-party Communist rule.
Although Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) maintained a formal democracy, the insistence of its rulers on imposing the Sinhalese language and Buddhism on the Tamil-speaking, Hindu minorities from India laid the roots of a civil strife, which has subsided only recently.
India, on the other hand, overcame its problems of internal rifts by adopting accommodative policies, which can still provide guidelines to others grappling with divisive trends. One of the policies was to assure the non-Hindi-speaking people of the south, mainly the Tamils that Hindi would never be the sole official language without their consent and that English would continue as the link language as long as they wanted.
Similarly, the minority Muslims and Christians were assured that India would never follow the path of theocracies like Pakistan and Iran with their national identification with Islam and the consequent reduction of minorities to the status of second-class citizens.
The young Indian republic was fortunate, of course, in having at its helm a leader like Nehru, with his faith in democracy and secularism, and the glorious heritage of Gandhi. It was a legacy of which no other country in the region could boast.
Unlike some of its neighbours, the lifeblood of Indian democracy was the state and parliamentary elections held at regular intervals. They undermined the claims of the Communists as well as the northeastern and Kashmiri insurgents that no change was possible without the gun by disposing of via the ballot even such a powerful politician like Indira Gandhi — India's first and only woman Prime Minister.
The pride is reflected in the impressive military parade and cultural pageantry that is held in the national capital — and on a smaller scale in the provincial capitals — every year on January 26.
It is not only the display of military might, including supersonic aircraft flying overheard, that is the highlight of the show, but also the presentations on a moving stage of the distinctive features of life and progress of every state of the Indian union.
A thousand years ago, the Persian scholar, Al-beruni, said, "Hindus believe that there is no country like theirs, no nation like theirs, no kings like theirs, no religion like theirs, no science like theirs". If the boastful trait has survived through the vicissitudes of history, there is justification for it.