Nehru’s Independence Day Speeches

History, Nationalism and Gandhi

Himanshu Roy

[This paper analyses Nehru’s addresses to the nation on Independence Day, since 1947 to 1963, from the rampart of the Red Fort in Delhi. For 17 years, his addresses contained five recurring themes that wove together a framework of thought that gave a boost to liberalism, and has also become reference markers of public discourse: these were (1) the history of India (2) issue of communalism (3) ideals of anti-colonial movement (4) paradigm of development and (5) reference to Gandhi.The addresses were in Hindustani beginning with brothers and sisters (bhaiyon aur bahino) and ended with Jay Hind.The addresses were in simple general words, in the manner of explaining a point to the audience.]

 It was never a prepared draft, neither was there any specific policy announcement or any proposed directive to the administration. In passing references, he used to refer about five year plans, development of agriculture, issue of linguistic states, election of Lok Sabha, removal of unemployment and casteism, issues with Pakistan, China, Korea, etc. His tone and tenor and the manner of speaking indicated that he shared these developments of time as pieces of information with the public. Their opinion in the decision-making was not sought. The most melancholic voice was in 1963 when Nehru seemed to be a broken man, sapped of energy. The loss of war and territory to China in 1962 had impacted him badly. Patel’s public speeches, till 1950, in contrast, were straight, in the manner of explaining a point, suggesting a way out, giving directives, and seeking opinion. It was a matter of fact, categorical, and never circumspect. Nehru was circumspect, woolly. Even when he was cheated, such example as on Kashmir and Akshai Chin he never named the cheaters.

Usually, the Prime Ministers’ addresses on Independence Day are considered as policy statements of their governments that reflect their priorities towards citizens. In the foundational years of democracy, Nehru’s speeches reflected more of India’s history and of its civilisational values. As the partition of India had jolted the nation, one can understand the need for building up emotional integration among the citizens. But the irony of it was that it was the business and political elite who had mutually agreed to the idea of partition for their interests. The Muslims as a kaum were pushed into the vortex of separation by their elite under the banner of Islam. It was propagated that Islam was in danger and that Muslims needed social Justice. The Muslim electorate had voted for Muslim League candidates in the provincial election of 1945-46 that gave a boost to the partition process. It suited the colonial administration that fostered the idea of separation and propelled the partition of the country. Nehru had the tendency to use rhetoric to cover up the actual problem. The reference of Gandhi and communalism fitted into his scheme. Patel in contrast was forth -coming. His speeches in the constituent assembly and in the public addresses in Independent India were different from Nehru in form and content. Nehru also frowned upon any protest movement of citizens, for example for the linguistic state, as a threat to democracy and a boost to the disintegration of India. It was looked at as disruptive to the developmental process in nation-building. In his speeches,he referred to some of such protests. A major part of his speeches were of the generic nature of the time. Only a tiny part, as referred to earlier, mentioned any specific issue such for example as the Korean crisis, Panchsheel, agricultural development, planned development, the 1962 war, etc. There was never any focused policy statement on any issue of development like on the water, environment, industrial development, housing construction, roads, electricity, airports, railways, etc. His first address in 1947 was the shortest in which he had stated that ‘I am the first servant of Hindustan’ (main Hindustan ki jantaka Pratham Sevak Hun). And in his last address, in 1963,he talked of a New India (Naya Bharat).

Nehru was nominated as Congress president by Gandhi in 1946, by-passing Patel who was elected to be the Congress president. The Congress president was to be appointed as the prime minister. As Nehru was declared by Gandhi to be his political heir, it was obvious that he would be handed over the reign of the government. From his younger days in politics, he would share the podium with Gandhi in public meetings,reading newspapers or discussing a point of his politics. It was training in leadership while simultaneously being groomed to cultivate a symbiotic relationship with the youth. Gandhi had stated to him in a letter,“to put you in office was an attempt to find you in power, quicker than you could other-wise had been” (Gandhi to Nehru, 15th July 1936). Groomed in power relation, imbued in liberalism but speaking the language of left in the Hindustani sprinkled with Persian-Arabic words, Nehru fostered the development of capitalism in India in the incremental form under the rhetoric of being socialist and democratic, “the final goal… might will be communism”. He attempted to motivate the citizens to participate in the nation-building, but was short of specifics. He felt that being in minority Muslims felt insecured and it was the responsibility of the Hindus to make them comfortable. He knew very well that the Muslim electorate had voted for the Muslim League which had sought partition of India; Nehru as the Vice-President of the Interim government and as the president of the Congress had agreed to partition the country.

He talked about Hindustan in a civilisational term, hazaron baras purani (thousands of years old), of Bharat Mata Ki Jai (Long live the motherland), 1948 (of its immortality, of politics, of making of the policy;but the government he wanted was to be in prime ministerial in form with a grand PMO moulded in the manner of Viceroy’s secretariat, and the cabinet was to function as his executive council. His letters to Gandhi, and Mountbatten’s report on Nehru, amply indicated his thought. He wanted unrestricted freedom and liberty of direction to “intervene in the functioning of every ministry”. He felt that ‘the prime minister is the boss. Patel, and his cabinet colleagues felt that it could be the end of the cabinet government. By the time Nehru died he had already dented the functioning of the cabinet Government, the collegial functioning had already declined. Cabinet ministers including Nehru were bypassing the collegial functioning. The cabinet was largely reduced to complete the legal-procedural part.

In 1953, he referred to the developments in Kashmir, but did not mention the name of Sheikh Abdullah. The point he referred to was about the role of Kashmiris in the integration of Kashmir in India (ye bilkul hamare saamnetay sudabaathai ki jo Kashmir kafais-laaakhir main hoga vohvahanke log hi karsaktehain), of their elected legislative assembly and their local constituent assembly. Only Kashmir had its local constituent assembly. Abdullah was removed from the chief ministership because he was conspiring to secede from India. A new government was formed. Nehru mentioned his rung (angst) and felt that Abdullah had instigated (bhadkaaya) the Kashmiris. He was also critical of Jan Sangh which was against the special treatment being meted out to Kashmir. Nehru referred Kashmir as a special case (Kashmir kiekkhaasjagahhai. Uskivajahhain Hindustan kekhaandan mein Kashmir aaya.) But few moments earlier in his speech he had positioned Kashmir differently (hamare jo sidhaant Hindustan ke liye rahevohharek Hindustan ke hisseke liye hainvoh Kashmir keliyehai). This inconsistency was always in Nehru. For himself, he always sorted a separate parameter; for others, there was to be a universal yardstick. Nehru, originally a kaul, was promoted by his father; Nehru promoted his daughter and sister. He took away Jammu and Kashmir from the purview of Patel and brought it under his jurisdiction. The issue of Kashmir could have been settled through India’s military victory in 1948. But naively, he took the case to the United Nations General Assembly and lost the plot. The rest is history. Interestingly, Nehru did not mention Kashmir; but he did mention about Pakistan at length in 1951 when he gave his longest speech from the Red Fort. (Hamenafsoshuaki Hindustan ka tukda alaghua, lekin hamareaa khirme in manjoori se hua, hamari razamandi se hua). His love for Pakistan continued despite the war in 1948. (Pakistan… hamaredi laurbaazooketukdehain.)

It was also the year when he was to face his first Lok Sabha election with the universal franchise of 17-18 crores of the electorate without Gandhi and Patel. Everybody knows that it was Patel who had commanded the Congress election machinery: the selection of the candidates, funding of the election, the selection of the chief ministers and ministers in the provinces, etc. Patel was asked by Gandhi to look after this electoral works of Congress.

Nehru used to ask people to take up works of local development on their own, not to expect and be dependent on the government for every small work which they can do it collectively on their own (apnime-hnat se sadkebanaye… makaan banaye, panchayat gharbnaye, kahin-kahinchoti-chotinahrekhode, khain-chote school-vidyaalaya banaye…. eestarah se aajkal chin kamul kbadhrahahai). He was critical of the functioning of the administration. (hamared aftrnomein bade-bade file banteaur us par bade-bade note likhejaate, lekin vohsad ke aur vidyaalaya wonahi banteyaa arse baadbante, yehtarikahai, government jarahalkechaltihai). It was equally cajoling and encouraging the citizen and administration to perform. (padosi ki nukktachinitoh sab kar sakte hain, lekin khud kya akrskte hain). It was also indicative of the developments in India and abroad with which he kept his countrymen updated and also expressed his views whether it was on the Korean Crisis,the Chinese revolution or on the arrival of 15-16 lakhs of refugees from Pakistan. An interesting part of Nehru’s speeches were about asking countrymen to learn from the armed forces on discipline while simultaneously briefing them about military preparedness for any potential conflict with Pakistan (hum mulkko taiyaar karen kyon kijo log taiyaar nahi hote unke upar ham lehotehain). Civil servants like H M Patel who was defence secretary, however, has argued that after 1950-52 Nehru neglected the preparedness of the armed forces.

His frequent references to Indian history to inculcate a feeling of pride, to generate a feeling of nationalism to transcend the barriers of caste, religion and provincialism is laudable. But it was bereft of realities of the time. Or the government was just acting contrary to what Nehru was preaching to the people who were fighting the government for linguistic states which the Nehru government was initially not ready to grant. Nehru was calling it provincialism and was against it. Congress, on the contrary, was fostering caste for its electoral victory from 1937 election onwards which continued in 1945-46, 1952, 1957 elections and afterwards. Candidates in the constituencies were selected on the basis of their castes. The other political parties followed the lead. Such political mobilisation had its cascading impact on the social life. It led to fragmentation in society and violence to retain/change the power relations. A Similar impact was felt with the communal conflicts in the constituencies where minorities lived changing the religious democracy of a locality, leading to migrations, sale off properties, breakdown of traditional social relationships.

In 1955, Nehru talked of colonial Goa at length, wanted its merger with India but did not show any urgency for its liberation. He was not in favour of sending the army; rather he wanted the local Goan satygarhi to self-emancipate themselves with the assistance from the Indian satyagarhis who were willing to go to Goa for its liberation. Six years later the army was sent and within hours Goa was liberated. Patel was willing to send the army in 1948 but knowing the nature of Nehru he did not pursue the matter further; his prediction of liberating Goa from Portuguese in couple of hours turned out to be prophetic in 1961.

In 1963, the RSS was invited to be the part of the Republic Day parade. On the insistence of Nehru, Patel had banned the organisation in 1948 after the killing of Gandhi. When Patel had sought for evidence from Nehru, he had none except for stating that there was no written constitution of the Sangh/ RSS. Once the constitution was drafted and adopted in 1949 by the RSS, the ban was lifted. His last speech in 1963 was of a tired man. He died in May, 1964.

For seventeen long years, he was the Prime Minister of the country who had propelled the expansion and deepening of capitalism and liberalism but termed it as socialistic pattern of development. The CPI, then, had called him as the lackey of American imperialism. A mass leader of his time, he was the master of rhetoric. His assistant, Mathai ranked him as one of the top five best draftsmen of the world.

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Vol 55, No. 14-17, Oct 2 - 29, 2022