Happy Birthday, India
On August 15, 1947, 67 years ago while the world slept, India awoke to a new beginning, or in the immortal words of Jawaharlal Nehru, its tryst with destiny.
Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially. At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom. A moment comes, which comes but rarely in history, when we step out from the old to the new, when an age ends, and when the soul of a nation, long suppressed, finds utterance.
It is fitting that at this solemn moment we take the pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.
At the dawn of history India started on her unending quest, and trackless centuries which are filled with her striving and the grandeur of her success and her failures. Through good and ill fortune alike she has never lost sight of that quest or forgotten the ideals which gave her strength. We end today a period of ill fortune and India discovers herself again.
The achievement we celebrate today is but a step, an opening of opportunity, to the greater triumphs and achievements that await us. Are we brave enough and wise enough to grasp this opportunity and accept the challenge of the future?
Freedom and power bring responsibility. The responsibility rests upon this assembly, a sovereign body representing the sovereign people of India. Before the birth of freedom we have endured all the pains of labour and our hearts are heavy with the memory of this sorrow. Some of those pains continue even now. Nevertheless, the past is over and it is the future that beckons to us now.
That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we might fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and disease and inequality of opportunity.
The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us, but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.
Full speech here
The birth of the Indian nation was traumatic and joyful at the same time and in many ways India is still coping with the PTSD associated with the Partition that followed the independence.
Were it not for Prime Minister Nehru and his cohorts, India could have easily ended up like Pakistan instead of the democracy it is now. Unity in diversity became India’s motto replacing the divide and conquer strategy practiced masterfully by the colonial masters. There are few countries in the world as diverse as India, in terms of both languages spoken and the religions practiced. In light of countries splitting across ethnic and religious lines as we speak, the Indian experiment seems almost like an anomaly.
Stressing what bound Indians together rather than what separated them in those early years is what kept India united and viable. In some ways its truly a miracle, because the fault lines that divide India are too many to count. Although it is majority Hindu, it has the second largest Muslim population in the world, second only to Indonesia. There are nineteen languages on an Indian currency note, and for many if not most Indians, their regional and linguistic identity supersedes the national identity. Focusing on what binds Indians together therefore not just noble but also politic.
Jawaharlal Nehru was not unique though, instead he followed the lead of the previous leaders of the Indian National Congress, Mohandas Gandhi and Bal Gangadhar Tilak. Both Tilak and Gandhi formed alliances beyond narrow regional, caste and religious divides during India’s struggle for Independence. Here is hoping that this tradition continues as India navigates the twenty first century.