After several days of bone-chilling weather, brilliant sunshine greeted New Delhi on January 26, 1950. The mood in the capital was electric. People were exchanging greetings for the new era that had just dawned under the new Constitution.
For Rajendra Prasad, it was a hectic day. He started with a visit to Rajghat to pay homage to the Mahatma. Immediately after returning, he was swo-rn in as the country’s first president at around 9 am by the governor general of India, C Rajagopalachari at the Darbar Hall of Rashtrapati Bhavan. The historic swearing-in-ceremony was graced by over 500 guests who had assembled inside the hall.
Badruddin Tyabji, a 1934 batch Indian Civil Service officer responsible for the Darbar Hall ceremony and the other function held later at the Irwin Stadium (today’s Dhyan Chand Stadium), told me years later that Jawaharlal Nehru entrusted him the task of organising the functions. “Pandit Nehru wanted no glitches at any cost,” he said in his feeble voice in his South Delhi house in 1995. President Sukarno of Indonesia, his wife and several members of the diplomatic corps, members of the Constituent Assembly and prominent citizens had graced the Darbar Hall occasion.
After taking the oath, President Prasad made a short speech in Hindi and English, stating that it was a memorable day in the country’s history. Prime Minister Nehru, Deputy PM Vallabhbhai Patel, cabinet ministers and Supreme Court judges were present in the hall to witness the defining moment of our country. Moments later, Nehru and his Cabinet colleagues were sworn-in.
In the Darbar Hall, for the first time the national emblem of the Ashoka Pillar was placed near the throne where in the past the British viceroys had sat. Outside the hall, there were scenes of jubilation. Large crowds of men, women and children had assembled in the forecourt of Rashtrapati Bhavan. Many of them had come from adjoining states to witness the ceremony. People raised slogans of ‘Gandhiji ki jai!’ and ‘Vande Mataram’. Thousands visited Rajghat to pay their homage to the father of the nation two years after his tragic death.
After the ceremony at Rashtrapati Bhavan, the scene shifted to Irwin Stadium. The new president travelled in a horse carriage and Delhi’s roads were lined with cheering crowds standing along the five-mile route waving tricolours. A booming 31-gun salute greeted the president when he reached the stadium. After unfurling the national flag, the president, in his brief address, said, “We must rededicate ourselves on this day to the peaceful but sure realisation of the dream that had inspired the Father of the Nation, and other leaders and soldiers of our freedom struggle, the dream of establishing a classless, free and happy society.”
Lala Narain was the head of Indraprastha College’s governing body in 1950 and was on the first Republic Day with his friends at Connaught Place. Recalling that unforgettable day, the 89-year-old told me that the city was bustling with people of all ages. The restaurants were crowded, every shop was illuminated, and the spirit of freedom was infectious. Perhaps it’s time to again regain that spontaneous feeling of joy, of uninhibited pride today that was so overwhelmingly there exactly 62 years ago.
Vivek Shukla is a Delhi-based writer
The views expressed by the author are personal