15 August 1947: India Becomes Free But Partitioned  

By Chit Dukhira

In the 19th Century, with the Indian Renaissance, people began to be conscious of nationalism. The forces at work resulted in the foundation in 1885 of the Indian National Congress (INC), set up thanks to the Scotsman Octave Hume (1829-1912). It fought for emancipation till Independence was won in 1947. However, Hume simply gave form to what was by then an almost universally felt need. Supported throughout by other giants as Motilal Nehru (1861-1931), his son Jawaharlal (1889-1964), Rajendra Prasad (1884-1963), Vallabahi Patel (1875-1950), Chakravarti Rajagopalachari (1878-1972) and Abul Kalam Azad (1888-1958), he peacefully led India to Independence in 1947. Pakistan was then carved out of ancient India on religious grounds, as insisted upon by Muhammad Ali Jinnah (1876-1948). However, in 1971, it split, for cultural reasons, with the creation of Bangladesh.

Freedom: Anthem, Emblem and Flag

On 15 August 1947, India officially became sovereign. Jawaharlal Nehru was made Prime Minister, with Lord Mountbatten, the last Viceroy, who had also umpired the country’s independence and partition, as the first Governor-General. An Indian could have been appointed to this highest titular post, as was Jinnah for Pakistan. Yet, Mountbatten was the INC’s choice to ensure a smooth handing over through continued policy and administration for some time. In June 1948, Rajagopalachari became the first Indian Governor-General.

The national anthem became official in 1947. Its author, Rabindranath Tagore, first sang it at the INC’s session in Calcutta in 1911. This song was adopted as the country’s anthem at the inaugural function of the Free India Centre of Subhas Chandra Bose, in Germany on 2 November 1941. He was convinced that it would make India the unifying embodiment of all its provinces and religions. Thus runs its first stanza “Jana Gana Mana; adhinayaka jayahe; Bharata bhagya vidhata” (Thou art the ruler of the minds of all people, Dispenser of India’s destiny). The national emblem is a replica of the Lion Capital at Sarnath, near Varanasi, erected by Emperor Ashoka (273-232 BC), in memory of the proclamation there of the gospel of Peace and Emancipation by Lord Buddha (544-461 BC). It symbolises India’s concern for world peace and goodwill. Below the emblem is inscribed the motto from the Upanishads “Satyameva Jayete” (Truth alone Triumphs).

The official flag of three colours [(a) Kesari/SAFFRON, at the top, representing Agni (Fire) refers to the Supreme Being for Courage, Sacrifice and Renunciation; (b) WHITE, in the middle for Purity and Truth; and (c) GREEN, at the bottom, for Faith and Fertility] was hoisted at Red Fort in Delhi. The wheel in navy blue in the middle is the Dharma Chakra (Wheel of Law). In August 1907, the Indian Flag, of different design and colour, was unfurled by Ms Bhikaji Rustom Cama (Mother of Indian Revolution) in Germany at the Second International Socialist Congress and saluted by the delegates including Lenin. In June 1936, it was flown, in the present model, again in Germany, now at the World Congress of Towns and Cities, upon the initiative of Biren Roy who attended it as a delegate of the All-Bengal Municipal Association which he had founded.

World’s Longest Constitution

Rajendra Prasad, elected President of the Constituent Assembly on 11 December 1946, appealed to all its members to “place before the world a model of Constitution that will satisfy all our people, all groups, all communities, all religions inhabiting this vast land, and which will ensure to everyone freedom of action, freedom of thought, freedom of belief and freedom of worship, which will guarantee to everyone opportunities of rising to his highest and which will guarantee to everyone freedom in all respects.”

On 22 January 1947, the Constituent Assembly voted the “Objective Resolution” (Preamble) of the new Constitution as proposed by Nehru. On 20 February 1947, British Prime Minister Atlee declared that the British would definitely leave India by June 1948. The six-member drafting committee for framing a new Constitution was appointed on 29 August 1947. After first meeting on the next day when Law Minister Dr Ambedkar was appointed its chairman, it subsequently sat for 141 days. Several other committees on the Constitution were operational. Nehru and Patel chaired most of them. Constitutional Adviser Sir B. N. Rau prepared the draft on the basis of the reports and recommendations of the various committees for consideration by the Assembly. Finalised by S. N. Mukherji, the draft was published in July 1948. The public was given eight months to study it and then submit suggestions. The Assembly’s members were allotted more than this time frame for their comments including amendments. The proposed all-embracing Constitution was discussed during six days as from 4 November 1948. It was meticulously examined between 15 November 1948 and 17 October 1949. Of the 7635 amendments made, 2473 were retained.

In his speech of 26 November 1949, when the draft supreme law underwent the third reading before its adoption, the Assembly President, Rajendra Prasad, pointed out that “not less than 53,000 visitors were admitted to the visitors’ gallery during the period when the Constitution has been under consideration. In the result, the Draft Constitution has increased in size, and by the time it has been passed it has come to have 395 articles and 8 schedules, instead of the 243 articles and 13 schedules of the original draft of Mr B. N. Rau.”

He thus continued his address: “We have prepared a democratic Constitution. But successful working of democratic institutions requires in those who have to work them willingness to respect the viewpoints of others, capacity for compromise and accommodation. Many things which are not written in a Constitution are done by conventions.” Further, he cautioned the members that “if the people who are elected are capable and men of character and integrity, they would be able to make the best even of a defective Constitution. If they are lacking in these, the Constitution cannot help the country.” To finetune the new Constitution, the Constituent Assembly held 11 sessions during 35 months and 18 days. It took 114 days only to examine the draft.

Free India’s Constitution, effective on 26 January 1950, providing for a parliamentary government and the rule of law, is federal in structure, unitary in spirit and republican in character. Rajendra Prasad, the first President of the Republic, served from 1950 to 1962.

* Published in print edition on 12 August 2010

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