August 15 or Independence Day is perhaps the single most important date in the history of modern India, for on that date, in 1947, India shook off the yoke of British colonial rule and claimed her destiny as her own.
But have you ever wondered why freedom came to India on August 15? And do you know that India has not one but two Independence Days?
The choice of India’s Independence Day is a story of impulse, of haste and of compromise. Read on for the astonishing details.
August 15 was chosen as India’s Independence Day by Lord Mountbatten, who oversaw the transfer of power from Britain to India in 1947. Viceroy of India at the time, Mountbatten chose August 15 as that all-important date as it was the date when Japan announced its surrender during World War II, a significant milestone for the British, who had been on the other side of the conflict.
Still, Mountbatten didn’t give it much thought, or any, it would seem. Astonishingly, it was an impulsive decision made when he was caught off-guard, when he was asked a question. It was the first thing that came to his mind!
Lord Mountbatten was the maternal uncle of Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and the second cousin once removed of Queen Elizabeth II
The Viceroy was later quoted as saying, “The date I chose came out of the blue. I chose it in reply to a question. I was determined to show I was master of the whole event. When they asked had we set a date, I knew it had to be soon. I hadn’t worked it out exactly then — I thought it had to be about August or September and I then went out to the 15th August. Why? Because it was the second anniversary of Japan’s surrender.”
But there was a slight hitch – August 15 was considered an inauspicious date for Indians! When the date was announced, astrologers hurriedly consulted their charts and were horrified to learn that their worst fears had been confirmed. One desperate astrologer even sent a telegram to Mountbatten, pleading: “For the love of God, do not give India her independence on August 15. If floods, famine and massacres follow, it will be because free India was born on a day cursed by the stars.”
A compromise had to be worked out. India would be granted Independence at the midnight hour between August 14 and 15. It was the perfect solution because, in the West, a new day begins at midnight but according to the Hindu calendar, it begins at sunrise.
So the Constituent Assembly convened at 11 pm on the night of August 14, 1947, to mark the birth of the new nation. It also explains why India’s first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru in his ‘Tryst With Destiny’ speech famously said, “…At the stroke of the midnight hour, when the world sleeps, India will awake to life and freedom.”
But did you know that India has not one but two Independence Days? In December 1929, the Indian National Congress passed the ‘Purna Swaraj’ resolution for ‘total independence’ and made a public declaration to this effect on 26th January 1930. The Congress urged Indians to celebrate this day as ‘Independence Day’.
The historic Purna Swaraj resolution was passed after the failure in negotiations over the issue of dominion status for India.
The Congress continued to celebrate 26th January as ‘Independence Day’, every year, till India actually achieved Independence in 1947. In 1950, the Constituent Assembly chose 26th January as Republic Day – the day India’s Constitution took effect – to honour the Purna Swaraj resolution.
But here’s another twist in destiny.
Why was 1947 chosen as the year of India’s independence? British Prime Minister Clement Attlee had announced on 20th February 1947 the British Government would grant full self-government to British-India by 30th June 1948 at the latest. However, Mountbatten, who was to execute this transfer of power, decided on the year 1947 in order to expedite the process to minimise the fallout of the communal tension that had already begun to sweep across the country due to the partition of India.
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