India has celebrated her independence amidst scenes unparalleled in her history. Those who thought that the sadness caused by the country’s partition would swamp the people’s enthusiasm have been proved wrong. The emotions released by the end of foreign rule were too strong to be held back by the thought that certain parts have seceded from the Union. From all parts of the country have come accounts of how the great day was observed. The crowds that expressed their joy by “raiding” Government house, Calcutta, to witness the swearing-in of the first Indian Governor and the lakhs who installed themselves on the ground where troops were to hold a parade in New Delhi was demonstration of the mass emotion. Those incharge of the arrangements had hopelessly underestimated the magnitude of their task. All plans, therefore, broke down and popular enthusiasm had full sway. This, however, brightened the success of the event. It certainly pleased the Governor-General and the leaders, who rubbed shoulders with and were jostled by the common folk. The most heartening account has come from Calcutta where the healing touch of Mahatma Gandhi appears to have produced a miracle. Hindus entering mosques and Muslims temples and fraternisation on a grand scale changed the whole face of life in the city where killings on a mass scale first began. The sore spot has been Lahore where hatred had maddened the people and the dual control of the civil and military authorities has broken down. Perhaps after Bengal the Punjab, too, will be healed by the balm which Gandhiji proposes to apply to its lacerated soul. So soon as the mission of achieving Purna Swaraj has ended, destiny appears to have assigned to him another role — that of bringing amity between brother and brother torn asunder by temporary insanity.
Four figures stood out in yesterday’s drama. Towering above all is, of course, Mahatma Gandhi. As Lord Mountbatten said addressing the Constituent Assembly: “At this historic moment, let us not forget all that India owes to Mahatma Gandhi — the architect of her freedom through non-violence.” Pandit Nehru symbolises to the people the irrepressible urge for a new order and an undying faith in this country’s mission in world affairs. Sardar Patel represents the people’s will to be free and the determination to use that freedom wisely. Lord Mountbatten has earned for himself a name in the country’s annals. He saw what was not plain to the eyes of other Britons in India. He practised open diplomacy; he convinced the leaders of his sincerity and he found enough moral courage among them to come to a settlement. Remarkable were the addresses which Lord Mountbatten delivered to the Constituent Assembly of India and of Pakistan. In his address at Karachi Lord Mountbatten rightly dwelt on the Gandhi-Jinnah appeal and the Partition Council’s statement as the character of liberty and recalled the political and religious tolerance of Akbar as an example worth following. He told the Indian Constituent Assembly that the emergence of India as a stable and prosperous State would be a factor of the greatest international importance for the peace of the world.
The speech made by Dr Rajendra Prasad in the Constituent Assembly in reply to the Governor-General’s address and the message Pandit Nehru broadcast to the nation as the country’s first Prime Minister were statesmanlike. They emphasised the responsibility which goes with freedom, they called upon the people to show discipline and to produce more, and they pledged that the new wealth would be equitably distributed. In emphatic terms Pandit Nehru and his Cabinet have in a special message proclaimed their determination to bring about peace and order everywhere and to assure fair-play and equal opportunity to every citizen irrespective of caste and creed. Pandit Nehru has invited the public servants to act as “comrades in arms in the service of India”.
The celebrations over, India embarks on high endeavour. The leaders and the people are on their trial. Wise leadership and discipline, loyalty to the State and faith in our cause will be needed to get over the economic crisis which threatens to disrupt orderly development. It is a case of “all hands to the pump”. By the manner the people acquit themselves will India’s destiny be shaped, and if we rise to the occasion unborn generations will remember us with gratitude not only for having won freedom but for raising the structure of a free India on secure foundations.
This is an edited version of the Hindustan Times editorial of August 17, 1947.