15th August is India’s Independence Day and is the most important day in Indian history. It’s the day that this mighty country got its freedom from the British. People pay homage to the leaders that fought to make this a reality for the common man. In the days leading up to Independence Day, government buildings are decorated with pretty lights, usually in a tricolor design. They even have the country’s flag hung on streamers, fluttering from the buildings. And of course, there are all kinds of special programs, skits and contests depicting the importance of the day. And it is a gazetted holiday in India. But does anyone know how 15th August came to be Independence Day in India?
Independence Day is a day of celebration in India’s history
The story of how Independence Day came to be celebrated on 15th August is an interesting one.
Back in 1929, Jawaharlal Nehru called for ‘Poorna Swaraj’ or total independence from British colonial rule and January 26 was chosen to be Independence Day. And from 1930 onwards, Congress continued to be celebrated as the same till India attained independence. After that, January 26 became Republic Day in 1950 when the country was no longer under British dominion and was a sovereign republic.
And what of 15th August you ask? This is how it went. Lord Mountbatten was given an order to hand over power by June 30, 1948. However, had he waited that long, in C Rajagopalachari’s memorable words, there would have been no power to transfer. Therefore, Lord Mountbatten changed the date to August 1947.
When asked about the change, Lord Mountbatten claimed he did it to prevent the bloodshed and trouble that occurs in such a situation. Of course, it made no difference in the end. He was then said to have justified his actions saying, “wherever colonial rule has ended, there has been bloodshed. That is the price you pay.”
Going by Mountbatten’s advice, the Indian Independence Bill was introduced in the British House of Commons on July 4, 1947, and passed within a fortnight. By this bill, finally, on 15th August 1947, the British rule was over. India and Pakistan were established as separate nations and split from the British Commonwealth.
Why this particular date of 15th August 1947?
Mountbatten later claimed, as quoted in Freedom at Midnight, that “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.”
Most people may not know or remember this but on 15th August 1945, the then Japanese Emperor Hirohito gave a recorded radio address, later known as the Jewel Voice Broadcast. It was the day that he announced Japan’s surrender to the Allies, thus ending World War II. Mountbatten remembered hearing the broadcast while seated in Sir Winston Churchill’s room.
What about Independence Day in Pakistan?
Two nations gained independence from the British on 15th August 1947. But today, Pakistan celebrates independence a day earlier on 14th August. The Indian Independence Bill gave August 15 as the date of independence for both the countries. The first stamp issued by Pakistan mentioned August 15 as its independence day. In his first address to Pakistan, Jinnah actually said, “August 15 is the birthday of the independent and sovereign state of Pakistan. It marks the fulfillment of the destiny of the Muslim nation which made great sacrifices in the past few years to have its homeland.”
However, Pakistan chose to amend the date to 14th August in 1948. This was possible for one of two reasons. Either the ceremony for transfer of power in Karachi was held on August 14, 1947, or because August 14, 1947, was the 27th of Ramadan, a very sacred date to the Muslims.
Somehow, no matter the date, Independence Day in both countries is celebrated with great happiness. It truly serves as a reminder that a lot of people worked hard to make freedom a reality for millions of people.