Indian Independence (1947): Freedom At Midnight

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India is celebrating her 75th anniversary of freedom from colonial rule today, a turning point that took place at midnight on 14th-15th August 1947. But have you ever wondered why this historic moment unfolded at the midnight hour?

Mountbatten addressing the Independence Day session of the Constituent Assembly on August 15, 1947 | Wikimedia Commons
Mountbatten addressing the Independence Day session of the Constituent Assembly on August 15, 1947 | Wikimedia Commons

Jawaharlal Nehru’s “At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps...” speech marked the beginning of India’s independence. It was a new dawn and members of the Constituent Assembly rose and pledged to dedicate themselves to the service of a new India.

Wikimedia Commons
Wikimedia Commons

On behalf of the women of India, the national flag was presented to President Rajendra Prasad by Hansa Mehta, an educator and a women’s rights advocate from Gujarat. The national anthem was sung by freedom fighter and politician Sucheta Kriplani.

With this, the House was adjourned for a few hours until ten o’clock the next day. The massive crowd that had gathered outside the Central Hall of Parliament heard the proceedings broadcast on loudspeakers.

Since 1930, the Indian National Congress had been celebrating 26th January as India’s Independence Day, when it passed the historic Purna Swaraj resolution after negotiations with the colonial British over dominion status for India failed. But things took a turn in February 1947.

Wanting to leave India as soon as possible after being wrecked by WW2, British Prime Minister Clement Attlee announced that India would be independent by 30th June 1948. Lord Mountbatten, the Viceroy who oversaw the transfer of power, wanted to expedite the process.

He wanted to minimise the adverse effects of communal violence that had begun to sweep across India due to the partition of the subcontinent. He chose 15th August because Japan had surrendered to the Allies on that day in 1945, which brought WW2 to an end.

The date was special to him since he was the Supreme Allied Commander of the South-East Asia Command and had accepted the Japanese surrender himself in Singapore. But according to astrologers, 15th August was an extremely inauspicious day for Indians!

Nehru giving his 'Tryst with destiny' speech | Wikimedia Commons
Nehru giving his 'Tryst with destiny' speech | Wikimedia Commons

Therefore, it was decided that India would gain independence at the midnight hour, between August 14 and 15. According to the Hindu calendar, the new day begins at sunrise. That’s why the Constituent Assembly convened at midnight to usher in the country’s freedom.

Cities and villages across the country celebrated and rejoiced in the new-found freedom. Political prisoners were freed, houses were lit up with oil lamps and people danced in the streets.

But India was up against massive challenges - building the nation nearly from scratch. It would take the combined strength of all Indians to reach where we are today and to achieve the goals we are yet to accomplish.

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