Astrologers, poets and politicians: How key figures saw India's Subh‐e-Azadi dawning on August 15

Some astrologers considered August 15 inauspicious, but for Mountbatten, it was final. His hurrying Partition scarred the subcontinent. Gandhi tried healing but freedom came with a wound.

 |  4-minute read |   15-08-2019
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On February 20, 1947, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced that the British would leave India and Viceroy Lord Louis Mountbatten on June 3, 1947, published a plan to transfer power over the next 72 days.

The task included partition of the subcontinent, dividing its army, civil services, railways, police, postal system, even apportioning respective shares of assets down to office equipment, among other things.

Mountbatten had a tear-off calendar at his table that showed how many days were left to complete the task.

lord-690_081419022104.jpgGet it over with: Lord Mountbatten was in a hurry to get done with the transfer of power proceedings. (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

On August 15, 1947, the country’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru, made a ringing speech inside Parliament at midnight, saying, “Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny, and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge...”

Minutes after the historic speech, Nehru arrived at the regal palace — Rashtrapati Bhavan — to formally invite Mountbatten to become independent India’s governor-general and handed him an envelope that supposedly contained names of his council of ministers. Perhaps, in the excitement of independence, someone had sealed the envelope without putting the list inside.

Some astrologers had considered August 15, 1947 inauspicious — but for Mountbatten, it was a red-letter day. In 1945, the Japanese army surrendered Tokyo, where Mountbatten was serving as the Allied Forces’ supreme commander. August 15, 1945, is remembered for the victory over Japan (V-J) Day.

chai_081419024607.jpgNot everyone's cup of tea: Despite objections to August 15, Mountbatten was adamant on that day for India's Independence. (Photo: Getty Images)

Across the border, Pakistan came into being on August 14. It was the 26th day of the ongoing month of Ramzan when Mohammad Ali Jinnah hosted a lunch for Lord Mountbatten. Many in the newly created Islamic state were observing a fast that day.

Interestingly, Pakistan should have come into existence on August 15.

The Indian Independence Act, promulgated on July 18, 1947, in the British Parliament reads, “As from the fifteenth day of August, nineteen hundred and forty-seven, two independent Dominions shall be set up in India, to be known respectively as India and Pakistan.”

Thus, legally, Pakistan should have come into existence on August 15, 1947.

But August 14 became the official date because Mountbatten had to travel from Karachi to New Delhi.

At the time of India’s independence, Mahatma Gandhi was walking barefoot across villages in the Noakhali district of Bengal, amid a hostile atmosphere created by riots, making people take a pledge not to kill others.

He carried holy books, appealing to Hindus as well as Muslims to ensure peace.

There was a moving incident in one village where Gandhi reportedly asked the local Hindus and Muslims to come out of their hutments for a common prayer and a common pledge for peace. But nobody turned up. Gandhi waited for half an hour in vain. Gandhi then came up with an ingenious plan. He approached young boys with a ball and said, “Small kids from this village, your parents are frightened of each other — but what fear can you have? Elderly Hindus and Muslims might be frightened of one another. But children are innocent. You are children of God. I am inviting you to play a game of ball.”

ganm-690_081419022601.jpgWho heeded his words? Mahatma Gandhi pleaded for communal unity. How many heard him out? (Photo: Wikimedia Commons)

After playing with them for a little while, Gandhi told the villagers, “You have no courage but if you want courage, take it from your children.”

When Gandhi returned to Delhi, he learnt that his disciple Subhadra Joshi was hospitalised at Kingsway Hospital. Gandhi came to visit her. He asked Subhadra how many innocent lives had been lost in Delhi due to the communal violence. When Subhadra speculated that the figure could be over 1,000, Gandhi asked if it included some Congress peace-workers too.

Subhadra recalled that Gandhi was dismayed to hear her reply: none.

He wondered how he could believe that she and the other Congress peace-workers had tried to save innocent lives.

“When I argued that we tried to stop the violence, but the police just did not listen, Gandhiji retorted, ‘What is this I am hearing! You faced the Britishers’ bullets and now you say you cannot manage your own police?”’

Civil servant and author SS Gill described August 15, 1947, as ‘grey dawn’ in his book The Dynasty: A Political Biography of the Premier Ruling Family of Modern India.  

Poet Faiz Ahmad Faiz was in Srinagar on August 15, 1947. He wrote a poem titled as Subh‐e-Azadi:

Yeh daagh daagh ujaalaa, yeh shab gazidaa seher

Woh intezaar tha jiska, yeh woh seher to nahin

Yeh woh seher to nahin, jis ki aarzoo lekar

Chale the yaar ki mil jaayegi kahin na kahin

Falak ke dasht mein taaron ki aakhri manzil

Kahin to hogaa shab-e-sust mauj ka saahil

Kahin to jaa ke rukegaa safinaa-e-gham-e-dil.

Also read: Why I want to apologise to journalists based in Kashmir

Writer

Rasheed Kidwai Rasheed Kidwai @rasheedkidwai

Journalist-author Rasheed Kidwai is a visiting fellow of ORF]

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