Today houses and streets are decked with patriotic colors as India celebrates 75 years of freedom. The very idea that the Indian Union has stood tall and free for 75 years would have been a dream for many Freedom fighters while a nightmare for Strachey’s credulous followers.
Freedom had officially arrived in India on 15 August, 1947 but the celebrations in the Legislative Council were held on the day before.
Although the Indian masses or more aptly the Congress-minded Indians had been celebrating Independence Day every year on 26 January, owing to the INC declaration in the Lahore session to celebrate it as such. The session is etched in the history as INC finally transitioned from its earlier demand of ‘Dominion status’ to ‘Purna Swaraj’.
The resolution was passed and the last Sunday of January 1930 was fixed for ‘Purna Swaraj’ and the date happened to be 26 January. The Congress urged its followers to celebrate the date as the Independence Day. The declaration was a move to evoke Nationalist passions among the masses but even INC leaders were not expecting such a response.
Regarding the day, Nehru recalls,
“Independence day came….. And it revealed to us, as in a flash, the earnest and enthusiastic mood of the country. There was something vastly impressive about the great gatherings everywhere, peacefully and solemnly taking the pledge of Independence without any speeches or exhortation.”
Since the eve of January 26, 1930 many countrymen regarded and celebrated the date as Independence day for many years to come. However, before departing subcontinent, the British announced the date of departure as 15 August, 1947.
Many sections of the Indian society were unhappy with the decision, particularly the Nationalist leaders who sensed an imperialistic vibe from it, and on the other hand astrologers, who were cursing Mountbatten for selecting an unholy date.
The Official Ceremony
Taking heed of the warning of astrologers — celebrations were decided to be conducted on the 14th instead of 15 August.
The Fifth Session of the Constituent Assembly of India commenced In the Constitution Hall with the singing of Vande Mataram. There were three main speakers that night but India remembers Jawaharlal Nehru’s famous speech, which has been widely quoted since then.
It is common hearsay that no Indian event is complete without a fumble. In this case, it was Nehru himself, submitting an empty envelope to the governor-general, which was supposed to contain the list of cabinet ministers.
Despite the lavish celebrations in Delhi, one man was absent throughout the celebrations. The man was none other Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi who was widely considered the face of Indian freedom struggle.
An unbridled and thunderous applause had followed in the constituent assembly as the President invoked Mohandas Karamchand Gandhi in his speech.
The crowds on the streets screamed ‘Mahatma Gandhi ki jai’ but few knew where Gandhi was amidst the festivities. Mahatma Gandhi was at Calcutta(now Kolkata) but didn’t partake in any of the festivities or processions.
According to several accounts, Gandhi was in a foul mood and constantly denied comments requested by media correspondents. On 15 August, he took a day-long fast and his mood only lightened up after reports surfaced of Hindu-Muslim intermingling events in the region.
The General mood
Every year, we celebrate Independence day just in the same spirit as Diwali or Holi but can you imagine the joy of a generation, embracing freedom after being suppressed since their birth?
An American journalist compared the happenings in the street to ‘Times Square on New Year’s Eve’. Though the entire nation was celebrating the event, the pomp and show in the capital were enormous with more than 300 flag-hoisting processions being reported from Delhi alone.
As historian RC Majumdar describes, “It is hardly necessary to say that August 15 was hailed with joy all over India, and no words can adequately describe the tumultuous scenes of wild rejoicings witnessed in every city and every village.”
In the economic capital of India, Bombay(now known as Mumbai), the mayor A.P. Sabavala hosted a banquet at the famous Taj Mahal Hotel. The mood in Calcutta(now Kolkata) was ecstatic with the sudden emergence of flags in the streets — a city that was reported to be in a shortage of yarn for the past few years.
The public sentiment was neither shared by Gandhi nor the departing English officials. The private secretary of the British governor of Bengal displeasingly remarked, “The general motley character of the gathering from the clothing point of view detracted greatly from its dignity.”
Horrors of Partition
The joy of Independence also brought the horrors of being stranded in a different country. The partition in 1947 left a bloody trail.
According to an estimated figure, approximately 4500 people were killed in Punjab, between March and July. But in August, casualties were as high as 15000.
The division of two provinces, Bengal and Punjab, was based on district-wide non-Muslim or Muslim majorities. The British Indian Army, Royal Indian Navy, Royal Indian Air Force, Indian Civil Service, railways, and the central treasury were also divided during the partition.
The partition displaced between 10 and 20 million people along religious lines, causing widespread devastation in the newly formed dominions. It is frequently referred to as one of the world’s largest refugee crises.
There was widespread violence, with estimates of the number of people killed accompanying or preceding the disputed partition ranging from several hundred thousand to two million.
The violence of partition created an atmosphere of hostility and suspicion between India and Pakistan that continues to affect their relationship to this day.
The Indian nation achieved freedom on this day but India is much more ancient than 75 years. The undaunted spirit of Bharat — was constantly tormented by Turks, Mughals, and British but it is still vibrantly flowing unperturbed and will continue ever after.