A lot of people actually asked me the extra significance of 26 Jan 1950, when we had already gotten independence from the British in 15 Aug 1947. What was the big deal that happened on 26th Jan 1950 after all?
Here's my attempt to clear the significance of the two dates and show how life changed after the first republic day.
One should know that on 15 Aug 1947 India did not become legally independent from British. Technically, it was partitioned into India and Pakistan on that day with both halves continuing to be British Dominions( like Canada till today, and Australia and New Zealand till 1986).
But 15 Aug 1947 did actually give to the two halves a right to decide their future and current affairs completely freely and also gave them the right to legally cut away from British whenever they felt like.
So , basically India exercised that right on 26th Jan 1950 while Pakistan exercised that right on 29th Feb 1956. Till these dates both these halves continued to be British Dominions.
Also there is a misconception that from 15 Aug 1947 every Indian , rich and poor earned a right to vote and choose their leaders. Actually,this right to vote did not come even on 26 Jan 1950. It came much later in 1952 after passing of a law in Parliament.
So the basic question still remains that how did life change for the common man after 26 Jan 1950?
The change of India becoming a republic from a British Dominion was a change in top only with this change having no effect on common people.
Though our Constitution, the blueprint of the current system, came into force on 26 Jan 1950, it was still a copy of the British laws. The system continued to be governed exactly as British left it because the Constitution was very very largely same as Government of India Act which the British had made to govern us.
It was a conscious decision of the freedom fighters to retain the British blueprint.
Therefore even the coming into force of the constitution on 26 Jan 1950 did not change the basic British character of the system for the common man. He continued to see the same institutions and courts and bureaucrats as he saw them before the gora log left.
In that case, what's the big deal that happened on 26th Jan 1950?
There was one big change for the common man on 26th Jan 1950 which he did not experience even on 15 Aug 1947.
There came the fundamental rights!
Suddenly from 26 Jan 1950 people earned the rights which neither the British had given and which even the independence did not provide and which the new India's laws could not violate.
There came the right to life and liberty. After 26 Jan 1950 the courts were flooded with petitions from common citizens praying that even the free India's police was arresting people without trial and evidence, a clear violation of right to liberty.
There came the right to express freely. After 26 Jan 1950 courts began to forgive angry utterances of the youth of the times against the then Indian government citing that the youth is exercising their new found right to express freely.
There came the right to equality. So suddenly from 26 Jan 1950 all the official titles of Choudharys and Rai Bahadurs and Nawabzadas disappeared.( Though officially, Rajpramukhs continued. In fact, till 1971 the Indian laws continued to recognize some Kings or Rajpramukhs as equivalent to Governors)
There came the right to property. Government could no longer just take your land and not give you the market price for it.
It is interesting to note that even the then Indian government did not realise that after 26 Jan 1950 the people would start using their rights so well. They thought that since the British have gone most of the violations of basic rights must have disappeared with them.
When the people, after 26 Jan 1950, started to use the fundamental rights the government of free India was caught on the wrong foot. They could not contain the people nor the courts which suddenly let people enjoy the liberties which even 15 Aug 1947 had not given to them.
The government could not control the people without violating or at least curtailing their liberties.
So finally, within one year of coming into force of the new system of liberties which the people were enjoying after 26 Jan 1950, the government amended the constitution and curtailed all the fundamental rights.
With that first amendment disappeared the right to property. The government could take your property and pay you peanuts in return.
The freedom of expression was curtailed. So a heavy criticism of the government came to be defined as sedition or rajdroh.
The right to life and liberty was curtailed. You could then be sent off to prison without evidence for 3 months.
All in all, 26th Jan 1950 marked the beginning of a very short period of a year when the common people of India did actually enjoy true freedom and liberty.
What a shame that it was such a shortlived true republic and that it was our own government which took away from us the rights that even the independence day did not give.
26th Jan 1950 was a date when we got our uncurtailed rights for a short period. 15 Aug 1947 did not give us those rights.