Another Republic Day looms round the bend and it’s time once again for our hearts and souls to swell with pride. Unfortunately, soul-swelling has increasingly become a monopoly of Independence Day, leaving Republic Day somewhat out in the cold.
Some say that is as it should be, the day being in January. I disagree, though I realise that while we’re all happy we got rid of the Brits and became independent and celebrate Independence Day, we’re a bit unsure how we’re supposed to feel about becoming a Republic. After all, “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom” is far more soul-stirring than “At about 10 on a foggy morning, a bunch of soldiers will goose-step and some military hardware will roll down the roads of New Delhi, while the nation watches goggle-eyed, thankful for the holiday.”
The trouble is most of us don’t appreciate those thrilling early days of the Republic lost in the mists of antiquity before the advent of cable TV or MMS or Facebook. There were newspapers, of course, but you know how newspapers are. Another problem is that things happened in black and white back then. Nevertheless, I’m putting down a short history of the early years of our Republic so that readers are inspired and celebrate it, instead of spending the whole holiday searching for cheap vegetables.
Great Men walked about the country then. All of them had titles before their names, such as Sardar, Panditji, Rajaji and so on. This so dismayed PC Lanobis, the architect of India’s five-year plans, that he added ‘Maha’ before his name, thus becoming known to posterity as PC Mahalanobis.
There is a lot of misinformation about those times, such as Nehru’s fondness for dancing the cha-cha. It’s true he liked to be called Chacha Nehru, but that was because he wanted to play Uncle with the kids. Similarly, he wanted to play Bhai-Bhai with the Chinese, but that didn’t work out so well. Nehru also discovered India, becoming the second person after Vasco da Gama to do that. He wore a red rose in his buttonhole but it’s unclear whether that was a subtle hint of his socialism, or whether he thought it would impress Edwina. His greatest achievement, though, is that he begat Indira, who begat Rajiv, who begat Rahul, who hasn’t begotten anybody, although that may change.
It is entirely untrue that the rulers of the country’s ‘princely states’ were deprived of their thrones by Sardar Patel because they told the first Sardar jokes, under the mistaken impression Patel was a Sikh. But after kicking out the princes, India couldn’t very well become a princely state itself, so it became a Republic. Also, Pakistan’s becoming independent a day before us had been a cause of much heartburn and we decided to beat them by becoming a Republic faster than they could. We finally licked them by six whole years, with Pakistan becoming a republic only in 1956.
One of the many heroic things Great Men did at the time was to lay down their lives for their mother tongue, so that states could be reorganised on a linguistic basis. For those who do not know, mother tongues are archaic languages that used to flourish earlier but which are increasingly becoming obsolete after the sprouting of call centres and the rise of Hinglish.
Since there was no TV, there really wasn’t much to do in those days. So the Great Ones liberated Goa so that people could while away the time drinking and lazing on beaches there, a move that proved to be immensely popular. They then tried for an encore by liberating Bangladesh, but the place had lousy beaches and even lousier booze.
As the Great Men died off, things deteriorated rapidly. One of the last of the Great Ones, with the title of Loknayak, called for a total revolution. In retaliation, the government imposed the Emergency and the stirring saga of the Republic’s early years was brought to an inglorious end with Socialist India almost becoming Sterilised India.
Manas Chakravarty is Consulting Editor, Mint