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The Significance of January 26

Mathew Idiculla, a young friend with an avid interest in law and public policy, just launched his blog with a post where he draws our attention to the significance of Jan 26. Here are excerpts from his post:

It is in a funny way we treat important dates. August 15 is a day of celebration. It gave us independence … What does January 26 mean to us. Few people see beyond the unabashed display of arms and the President’s speech because we do not go into what it really stood for. The need to understand the history behind 26 January comes from the fact that only the past makes 26 January 26 January.

26 January, unlike popular belief, stood for Independence. … [On] 26 January, 1930 was the day India promulgated the declaration of Independence or the pledge of Purna Swaraj. On that day we declared ourselves an independent country, no longer under the clutches of the imperialists. The Declaration began “We believe that it is the incredible right of the Indian people, as of any other people, to have freedom to enjoy the fruits of their soil and have the necessities of life, so that they may have full opportunities of growth… if any government deprives a people of these and oppress them, the people have a further right to alter or abolish it”

It was the first time the Indian National Congress had declared complete independence and it was Gandhi who drafted it. The declaration said- “We believe therefore, that India must server the British connection and attain Purna Swaraj or complete independence… We hold it to be a crime against man and God to submit any longer to a rule that has caused this fourfold disaster to our country.” The Home Rule movement and the Nehru Report (under Motilal Nehru) had earlier advocated only for a dominion status of India within the British Empire. In December 1928, Mahatma Gandhi proposed a resolution that called for the British to grant dominion status to India within two years, which was later reduced to one year, failing which the Congress would demand for complete independence.

So after one year of British apathy, at the midnight of December 31, 1929 at a massive public gathering in Lahore, Jawaharlal Nehru declared “Purna Swaraj” or complete independence from the British and asked the people to observe January 26 as Independence Day. The Tricolour flag of India was hoisted by Nehru on the banks of the river Ravi in Lahore and later Nehru and his colleagues danced around the flag post. On January 26, 1930, the declaration of purna swaraj was publicly issued and people all over the country celebrated India‘s Independence day and this day was celebrated every following year.

On the eve of August 15, Nehru began his celebrated speech “Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially.” Sadly not many understand what it means. The tryst with destiny was the pledge India had taken long years ago- on the 26th of January 1930. However the pledge taken in Lahore, couldn’t be redeemed in full measure due to Partition. So the 26th of January is in no way subsidiary to the “independence” day. In fact even after August 15th, India was only a dominion which had not formally relinquished all ties with the British.

26 January also gives us an opportunity to introspect whether we have lived upto the values of the pledge. The declaration of January 26 says “The British Government in India has not only deprived the Indian people of their freedom but has based itself on the exploitation of the masses, and has ruined India economically, politically, culturally and spiritually” It further speaks on how a normal Indian is heavily taxed, how the village industry has been destroyed, how customs and imported British goods are undesirable. It also spoke of how “The rights of free expression of opinion and free association have been denied to us” and how “the system of education has torn us from our moorings and our training has made us bug the very chains that bind us”.

Where have we reached 80 years after this declaration? Has the injustices decreased or has it been reaffirmed more so in the recent years? Its important to take one hard look at ourselves and the nation and try to reach an answer conscientiously. The extreme contradictions in the country does not paint a rosy picture, hence we must deliberate- where we have reached, which direction we are now heading and where we must be ideally heading.

… It was on November 26, 1949 that the Constitution was formally enacted, not on January 26, 1950. 26/11 stood for the spirit of the Constitution not the burning Taj. August 15th stood for partition, tragedy and the dominion status not independence or celebration. January 26 represented freedom, the promise of independence and the formation of the nation-state, and not just the Constitution and parade.

Hence January 26 is a day to celebrate. … Perhaps its time to recognize the freedoms January 26 stood for. It’s time to analyse whether we have redeemed the pledge we undertook 80 years back. It’s time to resolve to take more actions in furtherance of the vision of January 26 …

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