Sunday, December 20, 2015

Jawaharlal Nehru: A Tryst with Destiny

It was the evening of August 14, 1947.

A nation of nearly 400 million people awaited its emergence from the clutches of colonial rule. Throughout the land, in cities and villages alike, these would be citizens anticipated the birth of their nation. In the capital Delhi, the Constitutional Assembly had gathered to witness the last act in the transfer of power.

As the clock moved slowly towards midnight, a slim elderly man dressed in a cream coloured achkhan (a long coat buttoned up to the neck) and a clean white khadi cap stood up. Flashbulbs illuminated the chamber, revealing the tense, fatigued face. It was to be temporary. As he spoke, he was to transform profoundly. His voice, low at the beginning, grew in volume as he continued his speech.

“Long years ago, we made a tryst with destiny….” Thus, Jawaharlal Nehru began what was to be perhaps his most memorable speech. “……..and now the time comes when we shall redeem our pledge, not wholly or in full measure, but very substantially,” he continued. This was a reference to the agony of partition. As Nehru spoke, Pakistan was already an independent state, and he may have seen the agonies awaiting the peoples of both countries.

Nevertheless, there was reason to rejoice. “At the stroke of the midnight hour,” he went on, “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 a pledge of dedication to the service of India and her people and to the still larger cause of humanity.”

Then he paused, may be to give a moment for the audience to grasp the essence of his words. Nehru knew that his challenges were immense. He had to transform a very backward society to the modern world. He went on elaborating, describing the immense challenges that lay ahead.

“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?”

“……. That future is not one of ease or resting but of incessant striving so that we might fulfill the pledges we have so often taken and the one we shall take today. The service of India means the service of the millions who suffer. It means the ending of poverty and ignorance and decease and inequality of opportunity”

These were the evils of India. It was home for more than 350 million people, and the numbers were growing rapidly. India was not self sufficient in food and feeding this expanding population was a mammoth task. A large section of the population, the adivasis and harijans in particular and rural and urban poor in general, were marginalized from the society. More than 80% of the people were illiterate. The privileged few enjoyed luxurious lives while the vast majority of the populace languished in utter poverty and ignorance.

Then, Nehru referred to his mentor, the leader of the freedom movement in India, the Mahatma. “The ambition of the greatest man of our generation has been to wipe every tear from every eye. That may be beyond us but as long as there are tears and suffering, so long our work will not be over.”

Nehru once more stressed the importance of striving for the betterment of India and the world humanity. “And so we have to labour and to work and work hard to give reality to our dreams. Those dreams are for India, but they are also for the world, for all the nations and peoples are too
closely knit together today for anyone of them to imagine that it can live apart.

His concluding remarks Nehru asked the people of India to join in the adventure of India’s emergence out of poverty and ignorance. “Peace has been said to be indivisible; so is freedom, so is prosperity now, and so also is disaster in this one world that can no longer be split into isolated fragments. To the people of India, whose representatives we are, we appeal to join us with faith and confidence in this great adventure. This is no time for petty and destructive criticism, no time for ill-will or blaming others. We have to build the noble mansion of free India where all her children may dwell.”

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