Freedom at Midnight
15th August 1947
Two self-governing countries legally came into existence, India & Pakistan at the stroke of midnight on 15 August 1947. The ceremonies for the transfer of power were held a day earlier in Karachi, at the time the capital of the new state of Pakistan, so that the last British Viceroy, Lord Mountbatten of Burma, could attend both the ceremony in Karachi and the ceremony in Delhi. However another reason for this arrangement was to avoid the appearance that Pakistan was seceding from a sovereign India. Therefore Pakistan celebrates Independence Day on 14 August, while India celebrates it on 15 August.
” 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 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…….”
The Price of Freedom
When Jawaharlal Nehru made his famous speech on August 15th declaring that at the midnight hour, when the world slept, India would awake to life and freedom, massacres were taking place almost daily on both sides of the line. Nehru later wondered if his fellow countrymen knew how close India had come to imploding. The violence was simply uncontrollable. Massive population exchanges occurred between the two newly formed states in the months immediately following Partition. Once the lines were established, about 14.5 million people crossed the borders to what they hoped was the relative safety of religious majority.
Based on 1951 Census of displaced persons, 7,226,000 Muslims went to Pakistan from India while 7,249,000 Hindus and Sikhs moved to India from Pakistan immediately after partition. About 11.2 million or 78% of the population transfer took place in the west, with Punjab accounting for most of it; 5.3 million Muslims moved from India to West Punjab in Pakistan, 3.4 million Hindus and Sikhs moved from Pakistan to East Punjab in India; elsewhere in the west 1.2 million moved in each direction to and from Sind. However, the net flow of Muslims since partition is from Pakistan to India. More Muslims in Pakistan have chosen to come and stay in India than Muslims in India have chosen to move to Pakistan. The newly formed governments were completely ill equipped to deal with migrations of such staggering magnitude, and massive violence and slaughter occurred on both sides of the border. Estimates of the number of deaths range around roughly 500,000, with low estimates at 200,000 and high estimates at 1,000,000.
Winston Churchill was against India’s independence. Speaking to an audience at the City of London in December 1930, Churchill claimed that if the British left the sub-continent, then “an army of white janissaries, officered if necessary from Germany, will be hired to secure the armed ascendancy of the Hindu. Speaking at the Albert Hall three months later, he claimed that “to abandon India to the rule of the Brahmins (who in his view dominated the Congress party) would be an act of cruel and wicked negligence”. If the British left, “India will fall back quite rapidly through the centuries into the barbarism and privations of the Middle Ages”. “If India becomes Independent power will go into the hands of rascals, rouges and freebooters. All Indian leaders will be of low calibre and men of straw. They will have sweet tongues and silly hearts. They will fight among themselves for power and India will be lost in political squabbles.”
‘This is certainly not the India we had dreamt of, fought for’
Freedom fighters are a disillusioned lot. They feel their battle was not just against the British rulers, but it was a fight to make the country a better place to live in. “We struggled to keep our culture and heritage intact despite the foreign intrusion. In the process, we didn’t care for our lives or families. We had risked our future for our countrymen. But, seeing the present state of affairs, we feel, we shouldn’t have done that. It wasn’t worth it,” said a freedom fighter.
Widespread corruption is gnawing at the soul of Indian nation. Major scams routinely grabs the nation’s attention. The sustainability of the path that India is on is questionable. Growing disparities between rich and the poor and large-scale displacement of the latter are leading to social tensions. Promises remain unkept because of policy failure and lack of governance. All these are linked to the growing black economy. The black economy is about 50% of GDP or roughly Rs. 3,000 billion annually. 3% of Indians, the elite, get most of it and the rest end up paying for it. This leads to a shortage of resources for development and ineffectiveness of schemes targeted at the poor. The black economy leads to waste. India has been losing 5% on it’s rate of growth since the ’70s. We could have been at $6,000 per capita instead of the current (2010) $1,000. But for the black economy, India could have been a middle-income country and not one of the poorest in the world. The growth of the black economy is fueled by the impunity with which we violate the law. It is a by-product of the public and private sectors, involving a triad comprising businessmen, politicians and the executive (bureaucrats, the police and the judiciary). Criminals have entered the triad as either businessmen or politicians, resulting in growing criminalization.
Within three months of Gandhi’s assassination, at a meeting in Sevagram on March 13, 1948 Nehru said: “The country has split into two–that is an established fact, but the danger is of further fragmentation in the future.” Nehru’s apprehension proved to be prophetic when Bomaby was split into Gujarat & Maharashtra in 1960. The state of Punjab split into Haryana & Punjab in 1966. State of Madhya Pradesh split into Madhya Pradesh & Chhattisgarh in 2000. The state of Bihar has split into 2 separate states in the year 2000, Bihar & Jharkhand. In the year 2000 Uttar Pradesh split into Uttarakhand & Uttar Pradesh. There is clamour for more! Bodos are demanding Bodoland in Assam. Telegana is trying to gestate out of Andhra Pradesh. Gorkhas of Darjeeling are clamouring for Gorkha Land.