Kingsway, as New Delhi’s Rajpath was known as the British left India, has always been at the heart of the country’s Republic Day parade—except for the first celebrations in 1950.
The maiden parade marched down Irwin Amphitheater, now Delhi’s National Stadium, as a crowd of some 15,000 gathered to watch the ceremony that marked India’s arrival as an independent republic.
Since then, India’s Republic Day celebrations have grown in size and stature, but those early parades of a fledgling nation had a different charm. In words and videos, Quartz takes you back in time.
Rajendra Prasad, first president of independent India, delivered the country’s maiden Republic Day speech (pdf):
Today for the first time in our long and chequered history we find the whole of this vast land from Kashmir in the north to Cape Comorin in the South, from Kathiawad and Kutch in the west Coconada and Kamrup in the east, brought together under the jurisdiction of one constitution and one union which takes over the responsibility for the welfare of more than 320 million men and women that inhabit it. Its administration will now be carried on by its people and for its people. This country has great natural resources, and now has come to it the great opportunity to make its vast population happy and prosperous and to make it own contribution to the establishment of peace in the world.
On India’s second Republic Day, Prasad sent a message to Indians living abroad (pdf):
Possibly, a large number of Indian nationals in overseas countries have not seen India since we became masters of our destiny, though presumably they know about the strides we have made in the sphere of material progress at home and in enhancing the prestige of the nation abroad. Nevertheless, I would like to tell them that India is about to emerge from one important phase of planned development and the draft of the Second Plan is ready and its implementation is to be taken in hand a few months hence.
The First Five-Year Plan has been a great success and in nearly all the spheres of nation-building and
constructive departments we have been able to reach the targets aimed at.
Prasad, still serving as president of India, delivered a broadcast on Jan. 25, 1957 (pdf) that is a bit more pensive:
On the auspicious occasion of the seventh anniversary of our Republic, I feel happy to offer my greetings and good wishes to my countrymen. On this day it is customary to rejoice and look back in order to assess the achievements of the year that has passed and also to prepare ourselves for still greater tasks in the coming year in a spirit of dedication and cautious self-confidence. For a nation occupied with a programme of reconstruction covering all aspects of life, such an opportunity is of utmost importance. It helps us in measuring our capacity as against the jobs to be undertaken during the year that begins today.
Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan, India’s second president, remembered Jawaharlal Nehru, the country’s first prime minister, in his address on Jan. 25, 1965 (pdf):
Tomorrow is the fifteenth anniversary of our Republic and I should like to take this opportunity of greeting our nationals at home and overseas and saving a few words to them.
The fast year has been a testing time for us all. The great leader, who had guided the destinies of our country since its rebirth as a free nation, is no longer with us. We who are left behind can have no greater inspiration than Nehru’s life of dedicated service in our task of attaining the ideal an fulfilling the vision he bequeathed to us of a united, democratic, progressive and prosperous India.
By this time, Radhakrishnan had a rather gloomy assessment of the country and its administration:
We cannot forgive widespread incompetence and gross mismanagement of our resources.
We cannot tolerate grinding poverty or self-serving wealth. Revolutions are made by people who are hungry and unemployed. Personal aggrandizement and lack of cleanliness in administration are not calculated to inspire faith in representative Government…
Zakir Hussain, India’s third president, called for introspection in his final Republic Day speech in 1969 (pdf), months before he passed away:
On the eve of the Republic Day, I take this opportunity to greet you and offer you my best wishes for a future of peace, goodwill and prosperity.
We have completed nineteen years of existence as a sovereign Republic. This is undoubtedly an occasion for rejoicing. But it is also a time for calm reflection and introspection, as we are celebrating this year as the Gandhi Centenary year. The great man who won national freedom for us was born a hundred years ago and even after his tragic departure from us enough time has elapsed to enable a whole generation of full-fledged citizens to appear on the Indian national scene without having as much as ever seen him. We shall constantly have to ask ourselves how far we have really tried to understand Gandhiji’s message.