(Note: The Modern Review archives run from 1907, when it was founded by Ramananda Babu, to the 1960s. Since this volume was intended to commemorate Ramananda Chatterjee, we looked only at volumes published between 1907 to 1943, the year of his death, and included a few articles from the August 1947 issue as well. Patriots, Poets & Prisoners was published in 2016 and edited by two of Ramananda Chatterjee’s descendants, Devangshu Datta and Anikendra Sen, and me.
By bringing out this volume and sharing excerpts from Patriots, Poets & Prisoners on this blog, we hope to draw attention to the fact that much of India’s true, and often stirring, history lies in the archives of little magazines and turn-of-the-century journals. These periodicals, if curated and reissued, allow readers today to listen in to history as it was being made, with few filters between them and the leaders or brightest minds from the past. It is a heritage that belongs, properly, to the next generation of Indians, but it cannot be so easily claimed until it is brought out of our archives and libraries.)
Dawn of a New Age
Soul-stirring events, crowded into 24 hours, marked the celebration of Independence Day at New Delhi. Beginning with the swearing in of the Governor-General and of the Prime Minister and other Ministers and ending with the unfurling of the National Flag by Pandit Nehru over the Red Fort, the Capital witnessed scenes unparalleled even in its colourful history.
Pandit Nehru as the first Prime Minister and Lord Mountbatten as the first Governor-General were the main heroes of the drama. They got receptions which any monarch or President would have envied. The outburst of popular joy was like the bursting of a dam, the mighty torrent breaking through all barriers.
At least 200,000 people swarmed round the Council House when the Sovereign Constituent Assembly was addressed by Lord Mountbatten and the National Flag was unfurled over the Council House dome. More than half a million people gathered in the Grand Vista on the occasion of the parade near India Gate when the National Flag was flown and the Governor-General and the Prime Minister saluted it.
The Government House reception was one of the biggest ever held. At about three, quarter of a million people gathered at the Parade Groundoutside the Red Fort, and the cheering was thunderous when Pandit Nehru spoke of Netaji Subhas Bose who had unfurled the Flag of Indian Independence abroad and had begun the march towards the Delhi Red Fort with the tricolour. The INA soldiers and their band participated in the ceremony.
They had the further satisfaction that the first act of the Nehru Government was to announce the release of INA prisoners and political prisoners.
Two of the striking features of the celebrations were that all sections of the people participated wholeheartedly and that thousands of villagers had flocked into the Capital in their colourful costumes.
The significance of the ceremony lay in the fact that whereas the Governor-General took the Oath of Allegiance to the King, and his heirs and successors, the Ministers swore “faith and allegiance to the Constitution of India as by law established” and pledged themselves “to do right to all manner of people after the laws and usages of India without fear or favour, affection or ill-will.”
Pandit Nehru’s Broadcast
Following is the text of Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru’s first broadcast to the Nation as Prime Minister of the Indian Union:
We are a free and sovereign people today and we have rid ourselves of the burden of the past. We look at the world with clear and friendly eyes and at the future with faith and confidence.
It has been my privilege to serve India and the cause of India’s freedom for many years. Today I address you for the first time officially as the First Servant of the Indian people, pledged to their service and their betterment. I am here because you willed it so and I remain here so long as you choose to honour me with your confidence.
The burden of foreign domination is done away with, but freedom brings its own responsibilities and burdens, and they can only be shouldered in the spirit of a free people, self-disciplined, and determined to preserve and enlarge that freedom.
We have achieved much; we have to achieve much more. Let us then address ourselves to our new tasks with the determination and adherence to high principles which our great leader has taught us. Gandhiji is fortunately with us to guide and inspire and ever to point out to us the path of high endeavour. He taught us long ago that ideals and objectives can never be divorced from the methods adopted to realize them; that worthy ends can only be achieved through worthy means. If we aim at the big things of life, if we dream of India as a great nation giving her age-old message of peace and freedom to others, then we have to be big ourselves and worthy children of Mother India. The eyes of the world are upon us watching this birth of freedom in the East and wondering what it means.
Our first and immediate objective must be to put an end to all internal strife and violence, which disfigure and degrade us and injure the cause of freedom. They come in the way of consideration of the great economic problems of the masses of the people which so urgently demand attention.
Our long subjection and the World War and its aftermath have made us inherit an accumulation of vital problems, and today our people lack food and clothing and other necessaries, and we are caught in a spiral of inflation and rising prices. We cannot solve these problems suddenly, but we cannot also delay their solution. So we must plan wisely so that the burdens on the masses may grow less and their standards of living go up. We wish ill to none, but it must be clearly understood that the interests of our long-suffering masses must come first and every entrenched interest that comes in their way must yield to them. We have to change rapidly our antiquared land tenure system, and we have also to promote industrialization on a large and balanced scale, so as to add to the wealth of the country, and thus to the national dividend which can be equitably distributed.
Production today is the first priority, and every attempt to hamper or lessen production is injuring the nation, and more especially harmful to our labouring masses. But production by itself is not enough, for this may lead to an even greater concentration of wealth in a few hands, which comes in the way of progress and which, in the context of today, produces instability and conflict. Therefore, fair and equitable distribution is essential for any solution of the problem.
The Government of India have in hand at present several vast schemes for developing river valleys by controlling the flow of rivers, building dams and reservoirs and irrigation works and developing hydro-electric power. These will lead to greater food production and to the growth of industry and to all-round development. These schemes are thus basic to all planning and we intend to complete them as rapidly as possible so that the masses may profit.
All this requires peaceful conditions and the co-operation of all concerned, and hard and continuous work. Let us then address ourselves to these great and worthy tasks and forget our mutual wrangling and conflicts. There is a time for quarrelling and there is a time for co-operative endeavour. There is a time for work and there is a time for play. Today, there is no time for quarrelling or overmuch play, unless we prove false to our country and our people. Today, we must co-operate with one another and work together, and work with right goodwill.
I should like to address a few words to our Services, civil and military. The old distinctions and differences are gone and today we are all free sons and daughters of India, proud of our country’s freedom and joining together in our service of her. Our common allegiances is to India. In the difficult days ahead our Services and experts have a vital role to play and we invite them to do so as comrades in the service of India.
Free India’s National Flag
The Flag adopted by the Constituent Assembly of India has been a horizontal tricolour of saffron, white and green with the wheel of Asoka at the centre printed in deep blue. The new flag, it is clear, is distinguishable from the previous one only in the replacement of the charkha or the spinning wheel by the chakra or the Asoka wheel. Lest any communal interpretation is attempted either of the colours chosen for the stripes or of the wheel selected to be in the centre. Both Pandit Nehru and Dr Radhakrishnan have given out the authentic interpretation. What Pandit Nehru has been emphatic on the artistic significance ruling the design, Dr Radhakrishnan has noted the philosophy symbolised. Moving the resolution on the National Flag, Pandit Nehru observed:
“It is a Flag which has been variously described. Some people, having misunderstood its significance, have thought of it in communal terms and believe that some part of it represents this community or that. But I may say that when this Flag was devised there was no communal significance attached to it.
We thought of a design for a Flag which was beautiful, because the symbol of a nation must be beautiful to look at. We thought of a Flag which would in its combination and in its separate parts would somehow represent the spirit of the nation, the tradition of the nation, that mixed spirit and tradition which has grown up through thousands of years in India. So, we devised this Flag.
Perhaps I am partial but I do think that it is a very beautiful Flag to look at purely from the point of view of artistry, and it has come to symbolise many other beautiful things, things of the spirit, things of the mind, that give value to the individual’s life and to the nation’s life…”
Adding his unreserved support to the resolution, Dr Radhakrishnan said that saffron colour in the flag meant renunciation. This indicated that the leaders of the people must be disinterested.
That the choice has been consistent with the past history of our national struggle is noticed in Pandit Jawaharlal’s reflection. He says, “I remember the ups and downs of the great struggle for freedom of this great nation. I remember and many in this House will remember how we looked up to this Flag not only with pride and enthusiasm but with a tingling in our veins; also how; when we were sometimes down and out, then again the sight of this Flag gave us courage to go on.” In fact, behind the resolution lies history — the compressed history of a short span in the nation’s existence.
This living and acting in a concentrated way meant solution of all economic and social problems and attainment of democratic rights at one and the same time. This spinning wheel has now been changed for the sheel which is inscribed on the Asokan lion capital. Analysing the dynamic implication involved, Dr Radhakrishnan observed that the wheel represented something which perpetually moved with times while always being on the side of law and discipline. In a word, it represents the dynamism of a peaceful change and hence the deviation does not revolt against the original idea of having a spinning wheel in the national flag. Giving out the negative and extra-philosophic reasons for the change, Pandit Nehru, the initiator pointed out, “Normally speaking, a symbol on one side of the flag should be exactly the same as on the other side. Otherwise there is difficulty. It goes against the rules, if I may say so. The charkha, as it appeared previously on this flag, has the wheel on the one side and the spindle on the other.” Pointing out this heraldic difficulty Pandit Nehru noted, “We were of course convinced that this great symbol which had infused the people should continue, but we thought that it should continue in a slightly different form. The wheel should be there and not the rest of the charkha which created this confusion. The essential part of the charkha should be there, that is the wheel. But then what type of wheel should we have? The Asoka wheel itself is symbol of India’s anscient culture and of many things that India has stood for. So, we thought that this charkha emblem should be that particular wheel instead of just any odd wheel.”
This association of our flag with the name and time of Asoka implies that India will not content herself with being righteous alone but would change herself into an international centre. Consciousness of this implication is noticeable in the confident hope expressed by Pandit Nehru when he observed:
“Wherever it may go — and I hope it will go far not only where Indians dwell or our Ambassadors or Ministers live but across the seas where it may be carried by Indian ships — it will bring a message of freedom and comradeship to those people. A message that India wants to be friends with every country and that India wants to help any people who may lack freedom.”
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