India’s first Republic Day was graced by Indonesian president

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The Modi government pulled off something of a diplomatic coup when it announced that United States president Barack Obama would be the chief guest of India’s 66th Republic Day.

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The elaborate arrangements for Obama could not be more different from India’s first Republic Day 65 years ago, which had an Indonesian president instead and the navy threatening not to participate.

At the end of 1949, India had just achieved what seemed to be a remarkable feat: drafting the world’s longest constitution in fewer than three years despite the horror and bloodshed of the Partition. On the appointed day in 1950, it would cut the last of its ties to the British Empire.

The occasion, naturally a matter of pride to many citizens, called for a grand show of state. Foreign dignitaries were a must, as were a display of military might and a parading of the new president.

Sukarno, Indonesia’s first president who had only a month before finally persuaded the Dutch to transfer complete sovereignty to the new country, was a natural choice as chief guest. Not only was he a proven freedom fighter, his ideology also closely aligned with that of Nehru’s.