15 August is the day when India celebrates its Independence Day each year. While the day remains the same, realities of 1947 and 2015 mark the stark contrast between the two periods. The nation, then as now, looked up to its popular leader, respectively, both of whom offered different sets of hope and aspiration to an eager nation, as per the situation prevailing at the time.
While it was Jawaharlal Nehru, India’s first Prime Minister, who had the honour of hoisting the Indian Tri-colour on the ramparts of Red Fort in 1947, it was Narendra Modi, the newly elected Prime Minister, who hoisted the flag of India in 2014, an honour earned by him, when he led his party to power on the back of a record mandate.
It is 2015 now and the nation is gearing up to celebrate Independence Day, as always, with the traditional flag hoisting ceremony at Red Fort, which will be followed by a 21 gun salute and the Prime Minister’s speech to the nation. But beyond the symbolism and grand celebration, it is also a day to reflect and revisit the realities then and now. It is therefore, pertinent to compare the two time periods, then and now, by revisiting the circumstances prevailing in the country, and the responsibility and expectations of the people from the political leadership of the time.
The prevailing situation
1947: The battle-weary and almost bankrupt British government, in the aftermath of World War II, was in no position to continue financing, let alone administer their vast colonies, especially India, which was their biggest and most important colony.
The Labour Party was in power and was in favour of withdrawing from colonial rule. In India, the political situation was becoming volatile and polarised between the Indian National Congress, led by Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru, and the All India Muslim League, led by Muhammad Ali Jinnah.
Lord Mountbatten, who had been appointed as the last Viceroy of India, was given the mandate to oversee British withdrawal and transfer of power to the new government in India and Pakistan, respectively. What was planned for June 1948 was advanced by Lord Mountbatten by a year and India was granted its freedom on 15 August 1947.
While historians have adequately covered the event, it is pertinent today to understand the emotion, hope and aspiration of every Indian on the night of 14 August, when they stayed glued to the radio, to listen to Pandit Nehru make his historic ‘tryst with destiny’ speech. At the stroke of 12 AM, India was finally free from British rule. There was euphoria, hope and excitement on what lay ahead for independent and free India.
But did we really become free? India then was still in the throes of communal hatred and violence between Hindu and Muslim communities. Caste system remained deep-rooted and began to raise its ugly head in various forms, as leaders began to politically assert themselves on the basis of caste, in various parts of the country. Poverty was all pervasive, with the economy yet to recover from massive diversion of scarce resources by the British, to support their war effort, and industry was yet to evolve. Women remained in the backdrop of social privilege and widespread epidemic continued to rampage periodically.
Cut to 2015: It’s been 68 years since independence but several problems continue to fester. The nation remains polarised on religious and caste grounds though there has been a significant improvement in recent years, thanks to education and greater social integration. India today is fast emerging as a developed nation and all associated benefits like education, health services and housing have reached a far wider population than what was possible in the period post 1947.
The country then was almost entirely agrarian with widespread poverty, whereas the quality of life today has significantly improved for a vast section of the population. A lot still needs to be done but the nation today has greater confidence and ability to work towards its total eradication.
In 1947, women were largely restricted within the confines of their homes and did not enjoy social equality with men. Today, women in India enjoy greater legal equality although they are yet to earn full social equality in many parts of India.
While infectious disease took epidemic proportions in the post-independence period, Indian health services and infrastructure today has dramatically improved, with average life span seeing a significant improvement over 1947.
In 1947, immediately after gaining independence, the first priority of the political leadership was to restore law and order within the country and ensure that communal harmony prevailed. Pandit Nehru mandated Sardar Patel to visit various states that were still to commit their allegiance to India. Meanwhile, Pandit Nehru and the INC had to contend with rising political challenge from Shyama Prasad Mukherjee-led Bharatiya Jana Sangh and Left parties, while staying vigilant against Netaji Subhash Chandra Bose and his sympathizers in the INA.
At the same time, Pandit Nehru also faced age-old social problems of untouchability, integration of widows in mainstream society and the deep-rooted caste system that was extending its shadow over the emerging political equations. Pandit Nehru had to contend with all these challenges while remaining focused on his vision to make India a modern, vibrant and developed socialist state.
In 2015, many legacy problems like caste and religion based politics still remain though their thrust and form may have changed from the period post 1947. The political scenario today is perhaps more polarised now than what prevailed in 1947. Back then, the ruling INC had mass support of the people, who were still riding the wave of patriotic sentiment and remained optimistic of the future that the political leadership offered.
Today, India has just gone through a year of renewed hope offered by a resurgent BJP. While the INC enjoyed an extended period of people support, BJP today is beginning to experience the world of realpolitik. The present government continues to face a hostile opposition which is holding back a development agenda in pretty much the same way that the ruling INC faced back then, but then the priorities were different from those today.
Leadership: Contrasting persona and vision
There are some similarities between Pandit Jawaharlal Nehru and Narendra Modi though they differ vastly in their persona and working style.
Pandit Nehru was British educated, suave, articulate and came from a political family that was already well-known at the time. Pandit Nehru was extremely popular and respected across the country, something that he carried all through his political career.
In contrast, PM Modi comes from a very humble family background, did not pursue higher education and his political pedigree is entirely self-attained. PM Modi had a successful stint as Chief Minister in Gujarat but was mostly unknown outside his state. He had to overcome opposition within his party and outside, in order to be nominated as the PM candidate from the BJP. But the massive victory in the 2014 General elections saw Narendra Modi emerge from state politics to a national leader, one that the country now looked up to for taking India forward.
In a short span of time, Narendra Modi has graduated from being a national leader to being respected as an international one. Within a year of taking office, he has become one of the most talked about leaders and the world is taking notice of his every word and action, as he navigates India through domestic and international geo-politics.
PM Modi faces similar challenges as those faced by Pandit Nehru in 1947. In many ways, like Pandit Nehru, he too has to contend with legacy issues like caste and religion based politics. He too has a vision for building a modern and vibrant India, just as Pandit Nehru had at the time, but faces far greater resistance than what Pandit Nehru had to contend with.
It’s been just a year in office for PM Modi and he has a long way to go before he can come anywhere near emulating the domestic and international impact that Pandit Nehru achieved.
Just as Pandit Nehru delivered his visionary speech on India’s ‘tryst with destiny’, PM Modi’s first speech delivered on 15th August 2014, was about ‘his’ tryst with destiny and his vision of India, going forward. Just as the nation listened to every word uttered by Pandit Nehru back then, the nation closely followed every word spoken by PM Modi in 2014.
But one year down, the euphoria has waned, and 2015 presents different opportunities and challenges for the Prime Minister. While the 2014 speech was about his vision for India and was aimed at establishing his position as a prime minister, the 2015 speech will be about deliverance of his promises and consolidation of his role as a leader who can walk the talk.
The nation keenly awaits his August 15th speech from the ramparts of Red Fort, but how the nation responds as compared to 2014, will be keenly followed.
About Independence Day
National Symbols of India
Nehru’s Message to Nation
15th August 1947: India after Partition is declared Independent of British Rule
26 January was Declared as Purna Swaraj Day
July 18th 1947: The India Independence Act 1947 Comes into Force
Development in India After Independence
Unsung Heroes of Indian Independence
Pre-Partition Map of India
National Anthem controversy
Freedom Fighters of India
Skill development in India
NGOs and Rural Development in India
Sustainable Development Education in Schools
Disguised Unemployment in India