Republic Nation: Interpreting the Preamble

In the context of the Indian Constitution, description of the term “republic” would perhaps record a lot less space than the other preambular dictates which are indeed very indefinite and open-ended value concepts. It is a centuries old term which has hand-in-gloves with the Roman regime. The word republic finds its inception in the latin phrase res publica that literally means things pertaining to the public and which was used by the Romans to describe their government. The said word has, however, undergone semantical evolution with the passage of time. During the 2nd century BCE it was used by philosophers like Polybius to describe the system of Roman government which was marked by the balance of Autocracy, Aristocracy and Democracy¹. Polybius deemed this balance to be the primal reason behind the long-lived dominance of the Roman empire. In the modern era, it has a slightly different meaning. Black’s Law Dictionary defines republic as “a system of government in which the people hold sovereign power and elect representatives who exercise that power.” It contrasts, however, the aforesaid word with the autocratic, aristocratic and purely democratic system of governments.

republic,n. a system of government in which the people hold sovereign power and elect representatives who exercise that power.

Black’s Law Dictionary, P. 4068

As per Robert A. Dahl:
“a republic is a government which
(a.) derives all of its powers directly or indirectly from the great body of the people, and,
(b.) is administered by persons holding their office during pleasure, for a limited period, or during good behavior.”²
The definition in the Black’s dictionary  is pretty much similar to the one provided by Dahl. And no matter how many different dictionaries one refers the notion would largely be the same.

Republic, in the preamble of the Indian Constitution, has been mentioned alongside democratic which suggests that its construction is similar to the one presented in the Black’s Law Dictionary. It implies that the great body of people is sovereign in this country. It also signifies that the Head of the Indian State— be it de facto or be it de jure— is elected and not a hereditary monarch as is the case in Britain. For instance, the President of India— the de jure head of State— is indirectly elected under article 55 r/w article 54 of the Indian Constitution, similarly the Prime Minister of India— the de facto head of State— is directly elected by the people of India. Further, subject to the eligibility conditions, anyone amongst the citizens of India can be elected as the head of the State notwithstanding any bias on the basis of religion, race, caste, sex, language, etc. One of the reasons why a Tamil muslim boy who sold newspaper in Rameshwaram— and not some fortunate son (in John Fogerty’s words)— went on to become the 11th and most beloved President of India is indeed the democratic republic nature of this distinctive polity.


  1. Autocracy, or monarchy, simply means a rule by one and Aristrocracy is the rule by a special or elite class of people.
  2. Robert A. Dahl, A Preface to Democratic Theory 10 (1956).

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