Did India successfully overthrow the British Raj on Independence Day?

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Did India really gain independence on August 15th, 1947? The appropriate response is NO. India was granted only a dominion status on August 15, 1947, yet we still unknowingly celebrate it as Indian Independence Day. Only on January 26th, 1950 when India became a republic was the word Dominion replaced by Republic.

A lot of people in India still consider that a Dominion status is equivalent to an absolute independent status. This is not a fact.  According to The Balfour Declaration of 1926 dominions are autonomous communities within the British Empire, united by a common allegiance to the Crown. Even the same mistaken belief was also held by all Congress leaders in those days who openly proclaimed that there was no difference between dominion status and independence. Although afterward, Subhash Chandra Bose proposed that independence meant the complete dissolution of any relationship with the British; and for this, he was labeled as a ‘terrorist’ and ‘foreign agent’.

At the beginning of freedom struggle, most political parties in India were in favour of dominion status, which would retain the monarch of the United Kingdom as the constitutional head of state of India, and preserve political powers for the British Parliament in Indian constitutional affairs. Even the Indian National Congress, and Mahatma Gandhi, felt dominion status was the first logical and necessary step. A resolution demanding complete independence as early as in 1927 was rejected for this very reason.

In December 1928, when the Indian National Congress passed a resolution demanding dominion status to India from the British, the empire rejected the idea, refusing to alter India’s ‘colony’ status. This aforementioned incident of rejection by the British Raj filled the Congress with fury, and such strong feelings fuelled the Lahore Session of the Indian National Congress in 1929, where the Congress finally voted for ‘Poorna Swaraj’.

In the aftermath when India became Independent on 15th August 1947, our country did not have its Constitution, and thereby it was dependent on the colonial Government of India Act, 1935. Until the Constitution in 1950 came into effect, India was still a constitutional monarchy and had no democracy or constitution in place. Back then, the head of state was King George VI who was designated as ‘King of India’, with Earl Mountbatten as the Governor-General. India’s citizens were denied the freedom to elect their own leaders who could run the country. It is only after the Constitution of India came into effect on 26th January 1950 our nation truly became a Republic which meant that we could have an elected Head of the State in the name of President who could be indirectly elected for a fixed period of five years by the people.

So now that we know the history behind our Nation being proclaimed as ‘Republic’, let’s analyze the journey of the Constitution of India from its inception. Under the leadership of Dr. Bhimrao Ramji Ambedkar as the chairman, the Drafting Committee for forming a permanent constitution of India was appointed. The committee worked with great vigor and took a period of 2 years 11 months and 18 days to make its final version which was ratified by the Constituent Assembly on 26 November 1949. But the Assembly still waited till 26th January 1950 i.e. another two months from the date of enactment to enforce it, the reason being that, on 26th January 1929 during the Lahore session of Congress, a resolution for ‘Poorna Swaraj’ was passed which we have earlier discussed in this article and hence the leaders of our country decided that there could be no better day than 26 January for the Constitution of India to come into being.

To conclude, I believe that as law students or practicing lawyers we should be aware of the historical background of this particular event to understand the true essence of the word ‘Republic’ as enshrined in the Preamble of our Constitution.

 

~ By Adv. Anwesha Ghosh, LL.M. Graduate of NLU Ranchi, Lawyer at V.H. Kanara and Associates Advocates, Jamnagar, Gujarat