...History and legend will grow round this day. It marks a milestone in the march of our democracy. A significant date it is in the drama of the Indian people who are trying to rebuild and transform themselves. Through a long night of waiting, a night full of fateful portents and silent prayers for the dawn of freedom, of haunting spectres of hunger and death, our sentinels kept watch, the lights were burning bright till at last the dawn is breaking and we greet it with the utmost enthusiasm.
When we are passing from a state of serfdom, a state of slavery and subjection to one of freedom and liberation, it is an occasion for rejoicing. That it is being effected in such an orderly and dignified way is a matter for gratification.
Mr Attlee spoke with visible pride in the House of Commons when he said that this is the first great instance of a strong Imperialist power transferring its authority to a subject people whom it ruled with force and firmness for nearly two centuries. For a parallel he cited the British withdrawal from South Africa; but it is nothing comparable in scale and circumstances to the British withdrawal from this country. When we see what the Dutch are doing in Indonesia, when we see how the French are clinging to their possessions, we cannot but admire the political sagacity and courage of the British people. (Cheers.)
We on our side, have also added a chapter to the history of the World. Look at the way in which subject peoples in history won their freedom. Let us also consider the methods by which power was acquired.
How did men like Washington, Napoleon, Cromwell, Lenin, Hitler and Mussolini get into power? Look at the methods of blood and steel, of terrorism and assassination, of bloodshed and anarchy by which these so-called great men of the world came into the possession of power.
Here in this land under the leadership of one who will go down in history as perhaps the greatest man of our age (loud cheers) we have opposed patience to fury, quietness of spirit to bureaucratic tyranny and are acquiring power through peaceful and civilised methods.
What is the result? The transition is being effected with the least bitterness, with utterly no kind of hatred at all. The very fact that we are appointing Lord Mountbatten as the Governor-General of India, shows the spirit of understanding and friendliness in which this whole transition is being effected. (Cheers.)
You, Mr President, referred to the sadness in our hearts, to the sorrow which also clouds our rejoicings. May I say that we are in an essential sense responsible for it also though not entirely. From 1600, Englishmen have come to this country – priests and nuns, merchants and adventurers, diplomats and statesmen, missionaries and idealists.
They bought and sold, marched and fought, plotted and profited, helped and healed. The greatest among them wished to modernise the country, to raise its intellectual and moral standards, its political status. They wished to regenerate the whole people. But the small among them worked with sinister objective. They tried to increase the disunion in the country, made the country poorer, weaker and more disunited.
They also have had their chance now. The freedom we are attaining is the fulfilment of this dual tendency among British administrators. While India is attaining freedom, she is attaining it in a manner which does not produce joy in the hearts of people or a radiant smile on their faces. Some of those who were charged with the responsibility for the administration of this country, tried to accentuate communal consciousness and bring about the present result which is a logical outcome of the policies adopted by the lesser minds of Britain. But I would never blame them.
Were we not victims, ready victims, so to say, of the separatist tendencies foisted on us? Should we not now correct our national faults of character, our domestic despotism, our intolerance which has assumed the different forms of obscurantism, of narrow-mindedness, of superstitious bigotry? Others were able to play on our weakness because we had them.
I would like therefore to take this opportunity to call for self-examination, for a searching of hearts.
We have gained but we have not gained in the manner we wished to gain and if we have not done so, the responsibility is our own. And when this pledge says that we have to serve our country, we can best serve our country by removing these fundamental defects which have prevented us from gaining the objective of a free and united India.
Now that India is divided, it is our duty not to indulge in words of anger. They lead us nowhere. We must avoid passion[; passion] and wisdom never go together. The body politic may be divided but the body historic lives on. (Hear, hear.) Political divisions, physical partitions, are external but the psychological divisions are deeper. The cultural cleavages are the more dangerous. We should not allow them to grow. What we should do is to preserve those cultural ties, those spiritual bonds which knit our peoples together into one organic whole.
Patient consideration, slow process of education, adjustment to one another’s needs, the discovery of points of view which are common to both the dominions in the matter of Communications, Defence, Foreign Affairs, these are the things which should be allowed to grow in the daily business of life and administration. It is by developing such attitudes that we can once again draw near and gain the lost unity of this country. That is the only way to it.
Our opportunities are great but let me warn you that when power outstrips ability, we will fall on evil days. We should develop competence and ability which would help us to utilise the opportunities which are now open to us. From tomorrow morning—from midnight today—we cannot throw the blame on the Britisher.
We have to assume the responsibility ourselves for what we do. A free India will be judged by the way in which it will serve the interests of the common man in the matter of food, clothing, shelter and the social services. Unless we destroy corruption in high places, root out every trace of nepotism, love of power, profiteering and blackmarketing [sic] which have spoiled the good name of this great country in recent times, we will not be able to raise the standards of efficiency in administration as well as in the production and distribution of the necessary goods of life.
Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru referred to the great contribution which this country will make to the promotion of world peace and the welfare of mankind. The Chakra, the Asokan wheel, which is there in the flag embodies for us a great idea. Asoka, the greatest of our emperors; look at the words of H.G. Wells regarding him: ‘Highnesses, Magnificences, Excellencies, Serenities, Majesties—among them all, he shines alone a star—Asoka the greatest of all monarchs.’ He cut into rock his message for the healing of discords. If there are differences, the way in which you can solve them is by promoting concord. Concord is the only way by which we can get rid of differences. There is no other method which is open to us: Samavaya eva Sadhuh.
We are lucky in having for our leader one who is a world citizen, who is essentially a humanist, who possesses a buoyant optimism and robust good sense in spite of the perversity of things and the hostility of human affairs.
We see the way in which his Department interfered actively and in a timely manner in the Indonesian dispute. (Loud applause.) It shows that if India gains freedom, that freedom will be used not merely for the well-being of India but for Vishva Kalyana, i.e. world peace, the welfare of mankind.
Our pledge tells us that this ancient land shall attain her rightful and honoured place. We take pride in the antiquity of this land for it is a land which has seen nearly four or five milleniums of history.
It has passed through many vicissitudes and at the moment it stands, still responding to the thrill of the same great ideal. Civilisation is a thing of the spirit, it is not something external, solid and mechanical.
It is the dream in the people’s hearts. It is the inward aspiration of the people’s souls. It is the imaginative interpretation of the human life and the perception of the mystery of human existence. That is what civilisation actually stands for. We should bear in mind these great ideals which have been transmitted to us across the ages.
In this great time of our history we should bear ourselves humbly before God, brace ourselves to this supreme task which is confronting us and conduct ourselves in a manner that is worthy of the ageless spirit of India. If we do so, I have no doubt that, the future of this land will be as great as its once glorious past.
Swarajya is the development of that kind of tolerant attitude which sees in brother man the face Divine. Intolerance has been the greatest enemy of our progress. Tolerance of one another’s views, thoughts and beliefs is the only remedy that we can possibly adopt.
Therefore I support with very great pleasure this Resolution which asks us as the representatives of the people of India to conduct ourselves in all humility in the service of our country and the word ‘Humility’ here means that we are by ourselves very insignificant. Our efforts by themselves cannot carry us to a long distance.
We should make ourselves dependent on that other than ourselves which makes for righteousness. The note of humility means the unimportance of the individual and the supreme importance of the unfolding purpose which we are called upon to serve. So in a mood of humility, in a spirit of dedication, let us take this pledge at noon as the clock strikes 12.
Excerpted with permission from Building a Free India: Defining Speeches of Our Independence Movement that Shaped the Nation,’ edited by Rakesh Batabyal, Speaking Tiger.