The day before the I-Day

“Long years ago we made a tryst with destiny…” thus dramatically begins Jawaharlal Nehru’s first Independence Day speech, which to this day nobody knows how it ends. Because, let us face it, howsoever historic the moment may have been, it was still an Independence Day speech, hence boring. Nobody really pays much attention to it.

For instance, Indira Gandhi, when she was the Prime Minister in 1982, in her Independence Day speech, famously said: ‘I declare open the 9th Asian Games’. Apparently her speech papers had got mixed up. But nobody noticed it. (It, however, came to light in 2008 when DD Sports began its deferred live telecast of the 1982 Asian games with Indira Gandhi formally inaugurating the events with the clarion call to the athletes with the sporting words: ‘humko garibi hatana chahiye’).

Another thing that people hardly have any time for are events that precede historical events. For instance, nobody knows what exactly transpired on August 14, 1947. What was the talk among the protagonists? What was the main emotion that ran through the day? They need to be told to give a backdrop to history.

So, on this historic day today, we at Crank’s News have chosen to piece together some of those events of August 14, 1947 by talking to various persons involved in them, overcoming the minor inconvenience that many of those persons are in fact long dead

Here it goes:

In New Delhi, the mid-August morning dawns portentously with the news from the northwestern border being Pakistan, which hitherto did not exist, had overnight gone ahead and began to exist. A new country had been born. It was a tumultuous development that lent itself to new history and geography and, of course, to many tacky plots of Sunny Deol films.

Meanwhile, at the heritage-filled Teen Murthi Bhavan, the atmosphere was understandably tense. Quite early in that morning, Sardar Patel and Maulana Azad were sitting rather stiffly in the teak-wooded settee while Jawaharlal Nehru was pacing around nervously with knotted eyebrows. Though history books are silent on this issue, he was very clearly suffering from constipation. His emotional state too was perhaps no different.

There were several other leaders too in the hall, but they were less important to the scheme of things, as can be gauged by the historical fact that only ‘extras’ usually played their characters whenever the events were recreated on celluloid.

The talk, quite obviously, centred on the birth of Pakistan overnight. Azad, gifted with a keen administrative mind, asked does the partition of India required to be formally registered through a Constitutional amendment. ‘Specifically, what does it take to carry out a Constitutional amendment?’ Azad asked in an even tone.

Sardar Patel, a man with deep understanding of parliamentary proceedings and a stickler for rules, stood up and pertinently pointed out, ‘to carry out a Constitutional amendment you need to have a 2/3rd majority in Parliament and also a Constitution that could be actually amended’.

There was silence. A bit of shock, too. And then the penny dropped: India does not have a Constitution!

Nehru, a man of quicksilver emotions, slapped his forehead with his palms quite forcefully. Sardar Baldev Singh, who would go on to become India’s first Defence Minister, let out a voluble expletive or two. Azad was crestfallen. Others dissolved themselves in murmurations of indistinct vintage.

But soon enough Nehru gathered himself and told others, in a firm, no-nonsense manner, that the first thing that they should get in the morning after the new nation was born was a spanking new Constitution. But they couldn’t do it because — it is a pity that it didn’t occur to them in the first place itself — August 15 was a government holiday, which telescoped into the weekend of August 16 and 17.

And what with one thing and other, Nehru and Co actually managed to get a new Constitution and activate it (after three working days) by around 1950 only. (Till a formal Constitution was adopted, all the governmental workings and laws and rules were written down in a rough note).

Though the Constitution was not ready, India was lucky that other things that are of utmost importance when a nation is born —- a flag and an anthem — were both in full working condition.

Even as this was happening, the Indian Constituent Assembly decided that it had to have late-night sitting so that the power of governance could be transferred from the Britishers. It was also decided that Sucheta Kriplani will sing the epochal and emotional Vande Mataram. The original choice to sing the song was Usha Mehta. But since she tended to be slightly off-key at high pitch, the choice fell on Sucheta, whose singing was described by G B pant (and later copied by Himesh Reshamaiya) as ‘mind-blowing’.

So, at the stroke of midnight, as Indians celebrated from Kashmir to Kanyakumari over the departure of the colonial overlords, an old nation’s new avatar was born, Nehru, a man who was made for history, stepped up to the podium and delivered one of the most inspiring and impressive speeches that ended with the rousing words that to this day resonate in all listeners. The words, of course, are: “Frankly my dear, I don’t give a damn”.

(Disclaimer: Hey Ram!)