Birth of a Nation: Remembering what happened on August 15, 1947

Jawaharlal Nehru being sworn-in as Prime Minister of India by Lord Mountbatten on August 15, 1947.

On the day India achieved freedom from century-old British rule, Independent India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru said the task at hand was “incessant striving” for the future.

“That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we may fulfil the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too closely knit together today for anyone of them to imagine that it can live apart,” Nehru said at the Constituent Assembly in his famous “Tryst With Destiny” address on the night before Aug. 15, calling upon all to work hard to realize our to dreams.

In the past 70-odd years since independence, India has done exactly that: making dreams a reality through ceaseless efforts in almost all areas although many goals still remain to be achieved.

As the country celebrates its 73rd Independence Day this week, new hopes are beginning to crystalize, and new dreams being dreamt about even more accomplishments of India in future.

On this day in 1947, The Guardian newspaper in an article titled “The British Raj is Dead,” wrote, “Today’s celebration is a time for gladness in India — marred though it must be by the shadow of famine over so much of the country, and by the rioting in Calcutta and the Punjab — and for dedication to service in the future. The atmosphere, if still electric, is rather that which follows than that which precedes a storm.”

Birth of a Nation: Remembering what happened on August 15, 1947

Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, the first prime minister of India, addresses the nation from the Red Fort, Aug. 15, 1947.

There were scenes of jubilation on the streets of India alongside grief and gloom among people following violent sectarian clashes between Hindus and Muslims in the wake of partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan. So widespread was the violence that Mahatma Gandhi undertook a fast to stop the killing. According to published reports, Gandhi spent the day fasting and spinning, instead of celebrating Independence Day.

British rule in India began in 1757 when, following the British victory at the Battle of Plassey, the English East India Company began exercising control over the country.

The East India Company ruled India for 100 years, until it was replaced by the British crown in the wake of the Indian Mutiny in 1857–58, considered by many as the first outbreak of an independence movement against British rule.

Althoughf reedom came to Indians on Aug. 5, 1947, patriotic Indians had celebrated their first Independence Day 17 years before, in the first week of January 1930 when the Indian National Congress passed the resolution fixing the last Sunday of the month for countrywide demonstration in support up complete freedom or Purna Swaraj.

In his book “India After Gandhi,” historian Ramchandra Guha notes that Gandhi felt it would be good if the declaration of independence is made by whole villages, whole cities even … The resolution to mark the last Sunday of January 1930 was passed by Congress in Lahore during its annual session.

Guha observes freedom finally came on a day “that resonated with imperial pride rather than nationalist sentiment” in New Delhi, capital of the Raj and the free India.

Birth of a Nation: Remembering what happened on August 15, 1947

In this September 1947 photo, Muslim refugees clamber aboard an overcrowded train near New Delhi in an attempt to flee India.

The formal events began shortly before midnight. Apparently, he notes,astrologers had decreed that Aug. 15 was an inauspicious day and so it was decided to begin the celebrations on the 14th with the special session of the constituent assembly.

“The function was held in the high-domed hall of the erstwhile legislative council of the Raj. The room was brilliantly lit and decorated with flags. The ceremonies ended with the presentation of the national flag on behalf of the women of India,” the book describes.

The Guardian wrote, “For Indians it is thus a time to look both forwards and backwards, and an Englishman also may be inclined to see present events not only as a new start but as arising out of and the culmination of the century-and-a-half of the British connection.

“This is not to say that there will not be new crises, perhaps very early ones, and there may be times when Indian statesmen, like Allied leaders in the war, will need an optimism which proceeds more from principle than from sober view of fact. But Indians have not fought for independence in the belief that it was a bed of roses. They have claimed, naturally and rightly, the honor of confronting and fighting the dangers with which their country is faced and of freely invoking or dispensing with the aid which may be offered them from outside. It is a resolution which every man of spirit will applaud.”

It, however claimed that England never accepted the idea that it was engaged in a struggle for the retention of its empire against Indian nationalism. “The unhappy events of recent years rose from the conflict between the urgent demands of nationalism for immediate satisfaction and the cautious slowness of a responsible power in transforming or liquidating itself at a time of social instability and when such huge results in life or death might follow from the decisions taken,” the Guardian said.

“But that is now already past history. The wheel has come full circle and the British who went to India to trade are now once more in India only as traders….”

At a debate in London a few years ago, celebrated historian, critic and broadcaster, William Dalrymple, pointed out that India and China were far richer and more powerful long before the arrival of the British in India.

Birth of a Nation: Remembering what happened on August 15, 1947

Lord Mountbatten, Edwina Mountbatten and Jawaharlal Nehru at Independence Day celebrations.

Dalrymplesaid Britain’s main contribution was “to plunder and destroy India’s economic base and institutions.” Britain’s colonization of India, he said, began and ended with the gun, through violence, according to History News Network, quoting from the debate that took place in the imposing Supreme Court, the highest appellate court in the United Kingdom.

The stellar cast of speakers at the 2014 debate that included Indian politician Shashi Tharoor, was presided over by Keith Vaz, a British Labour Party politician.

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