You’ll recognise these lines, of course – “India is my country / All Indians are my brothers and sisters…” It’s the National Pledge, the oath of allegiance to the Republic of India. But did you know that these patriotic lines, recited by schoolchildren on Independence Day and Republic Day and at morning assembly in schools across the nation, was first composed in Telugu by an administrative officer from Telangana?
The National Pledge was written by P V Subba Rao, who worked in the treasury departments for the Nizam of Hyderabad, in the erstwhile Hyderabad State and in present-day Andhra Pradesh. Born in a village not far from Nalgonda town in present-day Telangana in 1916, Subba Rao had a flair for languages. He studied in an Urdu-medium school and quickly picked up English. His native language was, of course, Telugu. He also loved reading literature in all three languages and writing.
Wave of Patriotism
Subba Rao started working while in his twenties but it was only in 1962, at the age of 46, that he wrote what became the National Pledge. That same year, India was at war with China and the spirit of patriotism had gripped the nation. China had betrayed India’s trust and Subba Rao, who was District Treasury Officer in Visakhapatnam when the war broke out, was inspired to put pen to paper to unite the youth of his country.
Subba Rao was a simple man who kept a low profile but he had friends in high places.
He was close to Tenneti Viswanatham, a freedom fighter who was also a senior politician in Andhra Pradesh. When Viswanatham read the pledge, he was so moved that he asked P V G Raju to take a look at it. Raju, who was Education Minister of Andhra Pradesh and a member of the erstwhile royal family of Vizianagaram, felt the pledge was powerful enough to inspire children across socio-economic demographics.
So he directed that it be made a compulsory part of the morning assembly in schools across the district. That’s how Subba Rao’s pledge was first read out in a school in Visakhapatnam in 1963, before it was quickly introduced in many more schools that same year.
According to Ram Pradeep, a Vijayawada-based teacher who has written a biography of Subba Rao titled The Forgotten Patriot, a delegation from the Andhra Pradesh Education Department was attending an all-India conference of Education Ministers in Bangalore in 1964. They seized the opportunity to show Subba Rao’s pledge to eminent jurist and diplomat M C Chagla, who was then the Union Education Minister. Impressed, Chagla got it translated into all the official languages and directed that it be made a part of the daily routine in schools across India.
Subba Rao’s simple but moving vow to his country was adopted as the National Pledge on 26th January 1965.
Ironically, for 25 years, Subba Rao had no idea that his composition had been adopted as the National Pledge, that children across India had been regularly reciting it, and that it had been printed in school textbooks.
Even his own children were not aware that their father’s words had been adopted as the National Pledge, not even when they themselves read it out in school!
Subba Rao’s son, P V Subramanyam, is quoted as saying that his father remained in the dark about these developments as he had not kept up with the state Education Department. Then, one day in 1987, Subba Rao spotted the words he had written in 1962, in his granddaughter’s textbook when he was helping her with her homework. It was a huge revelation, one that filled the 72-year-old grandfather was pride.
Subba Rao died the next year, content to have repaid his debt to his country.
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