India's 75th Republic Day: What is it and why is it celebrated?

New Delhi has invited leaders from around the world to attend the celebrations over the decades

Children in Amritsar, north-western India, take part in an event to mark the country's 75th Republic Day. AFP
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India celebrates Republic Day on January 26 every year to mark the day the constitution was adopted in 1950, after the country gained independence from Britain three years earlier.

Republic Day has become an occasion to celebrate India's democratic traditions and military, as well as its cultural and regional diversity.

The 75th Republic day is to be marked by the traditional military and cultural parade in New Delhi, with French President Emmanuel Macron to attend the celebrations as chief guest.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, President Droupadi Murmu, the cabinet, opposition leaders and foreign diplomats will also watch the parade along the Kartavya Path – a refurbished 3km boulevard that is a part of Mr Modi’s Central Vista project in the heart of the capital.

What does Republic Day signify?

After gaining independence on August 15, 1947, India remained under the British Commonwealth, with the UK's monarch as its head of state.

But the leaders of India’s independence movement, including Mahatma Gandhi and Jawaharlal Nehru, believed the country should be a sovereign, democratic republic. After Mr Nehru became the first prime minister of an independent India, his government began to draft a constitution.

The constitution was officially adopted on January 26, 1950.

How does India celebrate Republic Day?

Republic Day celebrations in New Delhi begin with a 21-gun salute, followed by the President hoisting the national flag. The national anthem is also sung. It is a tradition to pay homage to soldiers killed in action.

A large part of the Republic Day parade is dedicated to showing India's military capabilities. The parade usually begins with the winners of gallantry awards saluting the President, commander-in-chief of the Indian Armed Forces, from military vehicles.

This is often followed by a display of fighter jets, missiles and other military hardware. Members of the army, navy, air force, police and paramilitary forces then march along the route.

One of the highlights of the parade has always been the soldiers mounted on camels. The troops usually patrol India's border with Pakistan, in the Thar Desert. The army's motorcycle stunt riders also perform.

This year, a 95-member contingent from the French Foreign Legion and a 33-member band from France will march down the Kartavya Path.

The military display gives way to floats that put a spotlight on the culture and history of various states and regions, while there are also performances by musicians and dancers.

Thousands of schoolchildren take part in the event, performing dances and cultural activities as they pass along the route connecting India Gate to the President’s residence. Other events are held on a smaller scale in India's state capitals.

Who attends the Republic Day celebrations?

Many high-profile figures from around the world have attended Republic Day celebrations over the years. The chief guest is usually a head of state and their invitation is considered to be an opportunity to strengthen ties with New Delhi.

The chief guest at the first Republic Day Celebration in 1950 was Indonesian president Sukarno. King Tribhuvan Bir Bikram Shah of Nepal attended the following year.

India invited Pakistan's governor general Malik Ghulam Muhammad in 1955. Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, attended the 1959 Republic Day celebration, with the UK's Queen Elizabeth II travelling for the event in 1961.

Chief of Defence Staff Lord Louis Mountbatten, viceroy of colonial India in 1947 and its governor general until 1948, was invited to be chief guest for Republic Day in 1964.

King Mohammad Zahir Shah of Afghanistan was the chief guest in 1967. Nelson Mandela, South Africa's first post-apartheid president, was chief guest in 1995.

Saudi Arabia's King Abdullah was the chief guest in 2006, followed by Russian President Vladimir Putin in 2007 and French president Nicolas Sarkozy in 2008.

India invited Japanese prime minister Shinzo Abe in 2014 and US president Barack Obama in 2015. In 2017, New Delhi sent an invitation to the UAE's President Sheikh Mohamed, who was Crown Prince of Abu Dhabi and Deputy Supreme Commander of the Armed Forces at the time.

British prime minister Boris Johnson was to be chief guest in 2021 but was unable to attend because of the Covid-19 pandemic.

Updated: January 26, 2024, 5:44 AM