A lot of Indian freedom’s history was made at the Viceroy’s Lodge in Shimla. As last remaining witness of it, the Mother Dutch clock is still on the spot at 127.
Viceroys were the British governors of the entire Indian subcontinent between 1858 and 1946, and his Jacobethan-style summer residence designed by British architect Henry Irwin was built during the regime of Lord Dufferin, who moved in on July 23, 1888, making Shimla the official summer capital of the Raj.
It was in this building that many significant decisions about India were taken, decisions that later laid the foundation of the country’s independence. It was here that Mahatma Gandhi met Viceroy Lord Reading in 1922 and, later, Lord Willingdon in 1931.
In 1945, the lodge was venue for the Shimla Conference that proposed the Wavell Plan for Indian self-government. A galaxy of Indian leaders such as Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, Maulana Abul Kalam Azad, Liaqat Ali Khan, Bhulabhai Desai, Master Tara Singh, and Muhammed Ali Jinnah were president. Mahatama Gandhi, though in Shimla throughout, did not attend any of the sessions. The conference staggered on until everyone, including the Viceroy, accepted that it had failed and the last chance for India to remain undivided had gone.
As World War-2 ended, in March 1946, Britian sent Cabinet Mission over to negotiate how power could be transferred to Indian people. A tripartite conference between the Congress, the Muslim League and the British took place at this lodge from May 5 to 12, 1946. Again, the two Indian parties failed to agree and Partition became certain.
There is, however, no record of what happened at the lodge, there is no living witness except the 127-year-old Dutch-made wall clock, which the British had bought from a Holland’s Anthonie Van Oostrom company. The clocks still ticks and shows lunar phases and date. “We have to just wind it once a week.” said Sompraksh, guide at the Indian Institute of Advanced Study on the campus.
It has polychrome-decorated brass dial with painted moon phases.
“There is no record or detail what happened here on the first Independence Day,” said institute director Dr Chetan Singh, “as when the clock struck midnight on August 14, signifying India was free, there was only a skeletal staff at the lodge.”
The building, later, became the summer retreat of Indian President, and President Sarvepalli Radhakrishnan turned it into the IIAS. It gets more than 1.6-lakh visitors a year.