India Celebrates 73rd Anniversary as a Republic

Freedom fighter “Netaji” commemorated with a statue at India Gate . . .

While Republic Day (January 26) marks an important date in the history of independent India, the inclusion of Subhash Chandra Bose, fondly known as “Netaji,” or “respected leader,” in this year’s celebrations has made headlines. In a first, India will begin Republic Day celebrations on January 23, one day early, to coincide with the birth anniversary of Bose. Additionally, while a granite statue is still under construction, Prime Minister Narendra Modi has unveiled a holographic statue of Bose at India Gate, a war memorial in New Delhi, as a tribute to the legendary leader on his 125th birth anniversary. Bose was a key member of the Indian National Congress and one of the forerunners in the anti-colonial movement. He left the party over a fallout with Mahatma Gandhi, and since Bose’s death in 1945, this will be one of the first national tributes to the freedom fighter.

Republic Day or Independence Day?

British Viceroy Lord Mountbatten chose August 15, 1947, the second anniversary of the Japanese surrender to the Allied Forces in the Second World War, as the date for Indian independence. But it took leaders of the independent dominion two years to integrate various princely states within independent India and become completely free of British rule. On January 26, 1950, the Indian Constitution came into effect, and India became a sovereign democratic republic. January 26 remains the preferred date for independence celebrations for many Indians, particularly followers of the Congress party, the most influential Indian political party in post-independence India.

Political move or patriotism?

The Modi government has consistently highlighted former Indian leaders not promoted by the Congress party, currently the primary opposition to Modi’s Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), establishing the BJP as the party that builds a national space for the political leaders and activists not given their due by the Congress party. The iconization of Bose is reminiscent of the 2018 inauguration of the world’s tallest statue dedicated to Sardar Vallabhbhai Patel in Gujarat, another freedom fighter. Bose was a pioneer of patriotism and evokes reverence for his efforts in building an independent India, factors that Modi highlighted in his speech at India Gate on January 23. But erecting Bose’s statue has brought criticism of the Modi government for altering the narratives and symbolism of historical monuments relevant to India’s colonial past without adequate public and expert consultations on such significant decisions. At the same time, many maintain that India is finally reclaiming history.