January 26: The day Indians reclaimed their republic


On January 26, India’s Republic Day, a whole lot of hundreds of Indian farmers marched into New Delhi to protest towards newly launched farm legal guidelines. A couple of thousand protesters break up from the primary procession and entered the enduring Red Fort, the place every year on India’s Independence Day, August 15, the prime minister hoists the nationwide flag and addresses the nation. The protesters, who’re predominantly Sikhs from the state of Punjab, hoisted their holy flag, the Nishan Sahib (symbolising religious and political sovereignty), proper by the nationwide tricolour.

January 26 is symbolic for Indians, as it’s the day on which in 1950 the Indian structure got here into pressure, formally proclaiming India as a republic. The occasions that befell in New Delhi 71 years later demonstrated in no unsure phrases that the individuals of India are reclaiming their republic.

Like any reborn republic, this one is imperfect and incomplete. There is chaos, there’s uncertainty as to the place the nation is heading, however allow us to pause and acknowledge that we’ve simply witnessed an unprecedented second in Indian historical past.

Unprecedented, as a result of India’s Hindu right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) might neither foresee, nor management the occasions main as much as the rebellion on the Red Fort, though it runs one of the vital autocratic and oppressive governments within the historical past of unbiased India. Unprecedented, as a result of, this time round, the farmers’ motion didn’t fizzle out over time, as has occurred previously, however as a substitute it expanded regardless of threats from the police and safety companies. Unprecedented, as a result of neither the mainstream nationwide political events nor the liberals might hijack – and ultimately smash – the motion. Unprecedented, as a result of the motion grew regardless of the false narratives broadcast by the largely dysfunctional Indian media, and actually reclaimed the fourth pillar of Indian democracy by giving delivery to a brand new media outlet.

Yes, the BJP has regained some quantity of management for the reason that occasions of January 26. Yes, the police have cracked down closely on the protesters. Yes, the intensive networks of Hindu nationalist teams on social media are working additional time to unfold pretend information and rumours to tarnish the picture of the motion.

But that doesn’t suggest what occurred shouldn’t be historic, revolutionary and of great consequence for India’s future. It appears tough for a lot of to understand this.

Of course, the BJP has taken the lead in condemning the occasions of January 26, portraying the protesters as “anti-nationals” for hoisting the Sikh flag. Curiously, when in 2014, a Sikh flag was additionally raised above the Red Fort, the BJP didn’t complain, because it fitted into its broader anti-Muslim agenda (it was perceived to symbolise the 18th-century defeat of the Mughals, who constructed the Red Fort, by the Sikhs).

More shocking, maybe, is the response of the Indian liberals who appeared fairly upset over the sight of protesting farmers coming into the Red Fort and hoisting one other flag alongside the Indian tricolour, as this challenged their concept of a peaceable protest. Messiahs of the armchair liberals, comparable to activists Yogendra Yadav and Medha Patkar, condemned the farmers’ motion for resorting to “violence”.

It is amusing these liberals are crying foul as a result of some protesters didn’t comply with the designated route of the march as accepted by the Delhi Police, broke barricades and entered the Red Fort. Dear liberals, you have to be conscious that revolutions by no means comply with meticulous plans. They are usually not dinner events the place meals arrives from starters to desserts in strict order, as you want them.

Even probably the most organised political actions in historical past had sudden twists and turns. Organisation and spontaneity are usually not essentially at odds – they’ll complement one another in the midst of efficiently overthrowing oppressive regimes. In truth, the spontaneity of the Red Fort takeover is a byproduct of the unprecedented scale of organised politics among the many grassroots throughout India.

This motion is historic in that it has persevered and expanded, regardless of – and never due to – its management which incorporates a number of ideologically contradictory and regressive forces. For instance, the All India Kisan Sabha (AIKS), the farmers’ organisation of the Communist Party of India (Marxist) aka CPI(M) is a part of the motion’s management. It is well-known that proper from its delivery in 1964, the CPI(M) has been a revisionist pressure, and wherever it headed state governments, it labored towards the pursuits of the working class, seizing land from farmers, promoting it to firms and suppressing dissent.

Ironically, whereas Hannan Mollah, a politburo member of the CPI(M) and head of AIKS, was busy condemning those that entered the Red Fort, some protesters at Red Fort have been seen elevating the AIKS flag.

Among different leaders who distanced themselves from the occasions at Red Fort is Rakesh Tikait, a former BJP ally who confronted costs of inciting communal tensions throughout the 2013 Hindu-Muslim riots within the state of Uttar Pradesh.

There have been additionally former BJP allies amongst those that appeared to help the Red Fort takeover. It is definitely alleged the farmers who entered the fort have been impressed by the uniquely vibrant character known as Deep Sidhu, an actor turned politician, who was in a position to mobilise massive numbers of farmers in Punjab to protest towards BJP’s farm legal guidelines. This is although as just lately as 2019, he was a part of the BJP electoral marketing campaign in Punjab.

Such contradictions replicate the complexities of Indian politics. On one hand, the presence of regressive forces inside the motion is deeply problematic, and but it needs to be acknowledged that – because of complicated ethnic and caste relations – such forces can mobilise the plenty in massive numbers. On the opposite, progressive forces of assorted ideologies and ethnoreligious affiliations might characterize a minority within the farmer motion’s management, however they do have the ideological integrity to personal and help occasions, such because the spontaneous siege of the Red Fort.

It is tough to disregard the truth that the continuing farmers’ protests are resonating with the Indian plenty greater than previous demonstrations led by progressive forces inside the Dalit and Muslim communities. Unfortunately, as a result of ethnic, non secular and caste relations that dominate Indian political and social life, it has at all times been extraordinarily difficult for Muslims and Dalits to mobilise the plenty and to imagine management at a pan-Indian stage.

That explains the shortage of enthusiasm at a nationwide stage for the Dalit gathering in 2018 to have a good time the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Bhima Koregaon, by which a Dalit pressure defeated a Brahmin one, or the large sit-in towards the citizenship legal guidelines led by Muslim ladies in New Delhi in 2020, or the group of Dalits and Muslims that gathered in 2019 on the historic Jama Masjid in Delhi, the place Dalit chief Chandrashekhar Azad Ravan proclaimed Dalit-Muslim unity.

Although progressive forces in India would not have the identical mobilisation capability as some regressive forces, their presence and affect within the farmers’ motion have been clearly seen.

On January 26, whereas the occasions on the Red Fort have been unfolding in New Delhi, in Mumbai, hundreds of small farmers marched in solidarity. These farmers have been predominantly from India’s most marginalised Indigenous communities, who’re traditionally probably the most oppressed and but probably the most resilient. Numerous progressive organisations throughout India additionally held small marches and parades in solidarity with the protesting farmers in New Delhi. There have been even small social teams that mobilised to assist the protest, just like the transwomen of Karnataka who ready and distributed meals for the protesting farmers arriving within the state capital Bengaluru from all around the state.

Each of those teams and organisations, inside their very own capability and ideological orientation, mobilised on January 26 to reclaim the republic of India. They despatched a warning to far-right Hindu nationalists that dissent is alive, that India is certainly a republic. Such coexistence of each progressive and regressive forces could appear contradictory, however it’s this imperfect union that has expanded the farmers’ motion and moved it ahead. And this has occurred earlier than, throughout vital moments in Indian historical past.

One such second unravelled 91 years in the past, on New Year’s Eve, when the Indian National Congress, underneath the management of Jawaharlal Nehru, hoisted the Indian flag on the banks of the Ravi river and demanded “Purna Swaraj” – full independence from British colonial rule, and never simply “dominion status”. Several weeks later, Nehru known as on the supporters of Congress to mark January 26 as India’s Independence Day.

The day was celebrated by freedom fighters from quite a few organisations throughout India and marked a brand new starting for India’s wrestle for independence. Gandhi, regardless of initially opposing the concept of full independence, got here on board. It was an historic second that shook the British, who couldn’t think about such “seditious disobedience” from the Indians.

Although Nehru has gone down in historical past because the Indian chief who took this decisive step in direction of independence, credit score needs to be given to a different man, Punjabi socialist revolutionary Bhagat Singh, who unfold the concept of “Purna Swaraj” extra fiercely than any of his friends. Singh, who was additionally a staunch atheist, advocated not only for full independence from the British, but in addition for the overthrow of India’s ruling higher class.

Leaders like Gandhi have been fairly uncomfortable along with his revolutionary concepts and actions and condemned them. Singh was far an excessive amount of of a radical for the style of the political elites that led the Indian National Congress, but they may not however settle for his concept of “Purna Swaraj”.

Thus, it was an imperfect union of contradictory ideological forces – much like the one we’re seeing in the present day – that made January 26 an historic day. It was the start of an extended journey to say full independence from the British – a journey by which each organisation in India participated organically in their very own capability, apart from the Hindu right-wing Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), which both distanced itself or remained an ally to the British throughout the independence wrestle.

The irony is that in the present day, the BJP, which has the identical ideology because the RSS, finds itself in the same place. It has positioned itself in opposition to a well-liked motion that seeks to reclaim the Indian republic and strengthen its foundations. And the irony goes additional: Just because the British didn’t think about that the Indian National Congress, which primarily labored as a security valve of British colonial rule, might problem their authority, the BJP didn’t think about that its personal allies, like Tikait and Sidhu, would flip towards them so quick.

So that is the place the importance of January 26, 2021 lies: It echoes the historic occasions that unfolded on the identical day in 1930 and 1950. It is the day when the Indian republic was reborn and reclaimed by its individuals.

Yes, it’s imperfect and incomplete. But allow us to remind those that are nonetheless denying the historic significance of this second or are busy discrediting the motion, that the occasions of January 26, 1930, might too have appeared chaotic or rushed, however they ultimately led to the downfall of the British colonial regime. On January 26, 2021, India’s plenty made it clear they’re now on their method to defeating the nexus between the far-right Hindu nationalists and company pursuits standing on the flawed aspect of historical past.

The views expressed on this article are the writer’s personal and don’t essentially replicate Al Jazeera’s editorial stance.