From the Red Fort: Nehru's Independence Day Speech, 1963

My Fellow Countrymen, Brothers, Sisters, Children and Soldiers,

We are assembled here once again, on the sixteenth anniversary of independent India. My greetings to all of you on this auspicious occasion. Many of you may remember that day when sixteen years ago, we met for the first time at the Red Fort and hoisted our beloved tricolour from the ramparts. That day is etched in our memory because our hearts were overflowing with happiness with India becoming free after long years of effort, toil and sacrifice. After a long, long time, the dark night had come to an end and we could see light. We had celebrated the coming of independence with great rejoicing, thinking that our days of hardships were over and that we could go ahead with the task of building a new India.

However, almost immediately after that we went through a traumatic experience when our northern borders was rocked by terrible riots in the wake of Partition and heartrending events occurred on both sides of the borders. It was a great shock and filled all of us with terrible grief. But we had to face it and gradually bring things under control. Soon after that came the assassination of Mahatma Gandhi at the hands of a Hindu. We could not have suffered a greater punishment than this. But we got courage by thinking of what his advice to us on such an occasion would have been. That was not the time to sit moaning about our fate but to face the situation bravely. We had to combat the evil forces and wrong thinking which led to such barbarity and ruin. All of us faced the situation and brought it under control. A new atmosphere began to prevail in the country. We began to pit all our strength into the task of building a new and prosperous India and uplifting the people of the country. We took up planning and have been implementing the Five Year Plans for the last ten or twelve years. I feel and I am sure you would agree with me that in the last decade or so, the face of India has been transformed and continues to change. New industries have come up in the cities and the rural areas, new projects have been completed and on the whole, there are signs of greater prosperity than before. We are still very far from our goals. But things are moving.

On the other hand, our attention seems to have wandered away from some fundamental things. We began to feel, now that we are free, we can make mistakes with impunity. We thought that nobody would dare to take away our freedom. We had not yet learnt the lesson fully that freedom is not something which remains unshaken on its own. We had not learnt that we have to serve the cause offreedom constantly, day and night, because the moment we slacken and allow our attention to waver, freedom will slip away, Danger looms large. We had allowed ourselves to slacken. We appointed ourselves as the upholders of peace and gained fame in the world. It is true that we stand for peace. But peace does not go with weakness, slackness or mental confusion. Peace needs hard work and strength. Only then can we preserve peace and our voice is likely to be heard in the world.

Last year we suffered yet another shock when there was an attack on our borders by a country which we had regarded as friendly. The long border became alive and fraught with danger. It was a difficult time for all ofus. But there was one good result of the Chinese aggression. It jolted us out of our complacency and a new wave of alertness and preparedness swept the country. There was a new spirit of sacrifice and enthusiasm everywhere. I remember even now the readiness with which the people, particularly the common man, gave everything they had, money, gold, silver, to the defence fund. Those who had the least gave most willingly and suddenly a new wave spread all over India. People forgot or at least relegated into the background, their petty disputes and realised that when the very existence of the nation was at stake, their foremost duty was to face the danger and protect the motherland. There was an atmosphere ofunity. We saw that in spite of the occasional dissensions and disputes, there was an unbreakable bond ofunity in the country which surfaces in times of crisis. We showed a brave and united front and the whole country geared itselfto the task of making India strong enough to face the enemy.

What does preparedness imply? Mere enthusiasm is not enough. Military preparedness has to be backed up by preparedness of various kinds. Supply of goods, military hardware, armaments, aeroplanes etc., have to be prompt. Innumerable industries have to work at top speed day and night. Food production has to be stepped up. In short, preparedness means that work has to go on unremittingly on many fronts. Every man must do his duty and help to increase production in any way he can in order to strengthen the economic condition of the country. We have paid attention to that aspect and there has been great progress.

However, I am afraid we are reverting to our old complacency since the fighting has stopped. People are beginning to forget the need to maintain unity. The old arguments and quarrels are springing up again, creating an atmosphere of weakness. Unfortunately, it is an old habit of ours and once the immediate danger is past, it is rearing its head again. But you must realise that the danger on our borders is not passed and our first and foremost duty is to protect our national frontiers. Other things come second. The country which is incapable of protecting its freedom and territorial sovereignty can expect no respect from anyone, nor can it have the strength to progress. 

The most important task before us is to strengthen the country, increase production and eradicate poverty, ensure that everyone gets equal opportunities for progress and the basic necessities of life, etc. However, all this is possible only when the freedom and honour of the nation are secure. If they are threatened, it can break the nation’s back.

The nation which wishes to remain free and independent puts the defence of the country before anything else. There can be no two views on the subject. Every Indian must speak with one voice. Unity ofthe country is ofthe greatest importance. We had seen this quite clearly last year and so we must continue to relegate the petty disputes and quarrels to the background. But since the border has been quiet for some time, people’s memory of the danger is fading and the old habits of disunity and internal dissensions are rearing their heads once again. Voices of discord are to be heard once again and criticisms are loud. This is indeed regrettable. Everyone has the right to criticise and argue.

We cannot stop anyone. India is a free country. But every individual has rights as well as duties and the two things have to go hand in hand. It is our duty to protect India’s freedom, foster unity and strengthen and serve the country in every possible way. This is the duty ofevery Indian irrespective ofhis religion or where he lives. The moment we forget this, we lose our rights too. Everyone has many rights, the right to live a comfortable life, to get rid oftheir crushing poverty and to have the opportunity for progress. Not everyone in the country enjoys all these rights at the moment. We are trying our best and we hope that soon a time will come when it becomes possible. But the fact is that we are still very far from our goal and we can reach it only by discharging our duty well.

I told you that the nation is in danger. I do not mean that something is about to happen. But the attack on our borders has awakened us to a new danger and we are sending our troops, aeroplanes, etc. to guard our borders. But armed forces alone cannot defend the nation. Every one of us in India, man, woman and child has to help. The armed forces have to be backed by the strength of the entire nation and the most urgent priority is national unity. The people must work together in mutual harmony and cooperation in fields and factories and elsewhere. The preparedness of the people will contribute to the strength of the armed forces. You must bear this in mind.

We are facing grave problems in the country. Our Five Year Plans and other projects have meant tackling grave problems which have now increased. We are living in a strange world where there is constant flux and grave dangers surround us on all sides. On the one hand, there is a threat of nuclear war. On the other hand, the atmosphere seems to be improving. Recently an agreement was signed in Moscow by England, the United States, the Soviet Union and others including India. It does not lessen the danger of a nuclear war. But it shows a way out and following which, the world may be able to achieve peace and disarmament.

India has first mooted this suggestion seven to eight years ago in the United Nations which has finally been accepted in Moscow. India was the first country to raise her voice in this matter. So we are particularly happy that it has now been implemented. We hope that its scope will continue to widen and ultimately the world will be saved from destruction. We are living in a dangerous world and yet life spreads out with all its hopes before the youth. It is a good thing to live in these times when hopes and dangers mingle together because it makes a nation strong and courageous. A life of too much ease is not good for any country. It weakens the moral fibre of the nation. We must remain constantly vigilant.

I congratulate you, particularly the youth and children who are living in such exciting times. There will be greater challenges before them in the years to come than what they have to face in schools and colleges. Life’s challenges are always tougher. You cannot face them by reading books. You require strength of character, toughness ofmind and spirit, to face dangers and overcome them without giving in to panic. In the years to come, as independent India grows older, we too must grow strong and not allow ourselves to become complacent.

We must always bear in mind that though we may differ over any other issue, on the need to maintain unity ofIndia and defend her freedom, we must present a united front. There can be no two views about this. There may be a difference of opinion on the path that we should adopt. But fundamentally, we have to think alike on these vital issues. Every step that we take must be with a view to serve India, foster unity and defend and protect our freedom. This is the yardstick by which we should judge all our actions. Very often we fall prey to emotions or get bogged down by partyism or groupism and do things which weaken the nation. You must remember that the days ahead are not likely to be easy ones. No matter which way you look, there are difficult days ahead.

When we were suddenly faced with the Chinese invasion, we had to take many steps which were not to our liking. But we were helpless. We had to almost double our military expenditure. The money had to be got by levying additional taxes which is not a popular decision either for those who pay or those who levy them. But in a crisis, ifpeople crib about giving up a little, they would not be doing their duty. Money has no value when the life and freedom ofthe nation are at stake. Parliament accepted the burden ofthe additional taxes without demur because the most important task at that time was to save the country from danger even if it meant carrying an additional burden or laying down our lives (cheers). This is how everyone reacted and people gave gold, silver, money and whatever they could.

We have to look at this issue not from the point of view of its intrinsic merits or evils. We have to look at the problem in the context of the present situation and how we are to face the danger that threatens, whether it is internal or external. If it means carrying an additional burden, we shall have to. As you know, wars impose a crushing burden upon a nation. They can ruin it. At the moment we are not facing an all out war though nobody knows what may happen in the future. But we must be fully prepared for any danger that may threaten and carry a heavier burden if necessary. India had acquired a great reputation in the world as a peace loving nation. It is true that by increasing the strength of our armed forces or giving military training to our youth, we are not giving up our policies ofpeace and nonviolence.

We shall continue to follow them and will try to solve our disputes with other countries by peaceful methods. We are not in favour of wars which bring ruin upon the participants and impose a heavy burden upon the people. But peace has to be maintained with honour and self respect. It would be wrong to bow down to wrong-doing out of fear. That would weaken the country and earn a bad name for us. So while we will continue to be fully prepared to face any danger, we will follow the path ofpeace and serve the cause ofpeace wherever we can in the world. But we will not do anything that will bring dishonour to India. This is imperative and we shall prepare ourselves fully, not only in the military sense, but as a nation with every man, woman, and child contributing their mite. We must make ourselves strong in mind and body and foster unity in the country. The habit ofdisunity is very widespread in India. We must learn to march in step. The strength of the armed forces lies in the fact that they march in step and there is strict discipline among the soldiers. We must all learn martial discipline in the country and perhaps we may be able to benefit from the danger that threatens us. It is a good thing to prepare ourselves for the future because we will emerge a stronger nation, with greater self-confidence and courage. It will be easier for us to progress quickly.

Ultimately, the strength of a nation depends on its qualities of self-reliance and self-confidence. There should be friendship and cooperation with other countries. But we must learn to stand on our own feet and think for ourselves. The moment a nation forgets this and gives in to panic, it will bring ruin upon itself and prove itself unworthy of freedom. What can be more foolish than for a vast country like India to panic or betray a lack of self-confidence? We must extend the hand of friendship to all countries. We have taken the help of many of them and are grateful, not only for their help but for their sympathy too. Sympathy is a valuable commodity and many countries have extended it to us. It lightens our burdens.

This is all very well. But we must continue to strive for the goals that we have set before ourselves. We want economic prosperity for India and to become self-reliant. We must learn to stand on our own feet. I feel happy to see our young boys and girls going to schools in their millions. I want that they should get full opportunities for education, training and to serve the country. We must build an India where nobody lacks the opportunity to grow and the disparity between the haves and the have-nots is not too great. This is the kind of future that we envisage.

We have set up a Planning Commission and there are innumerable officers all over the country. But as you know, they can merely show the way. The work has to be done by the millions ofpeople in India whether it is national defence or development work or something else. Neither the Planning Commission nor the Government and officials can do them for you. The work of the nation depends on India’s forty five crores ofpeople who must be awakened and made to participate in it.

I feel that the border crisis will ultimately prove beneficial to India. It will strengthen the country, make it tough and prepare the people for the future. There is no cause for panic or fear and India has never learnt to be cowardly. But it is likely to be a long drawn-out affair and we must be prepared for that. I congratulate all of you once again on the sixteenth anniversary of our independence. India is still young in a sense though it is an ancient country. We must grow up to be a strong nation and hold our heads high. There must be complete unity among the people irrespective of caste, religion, province or language. Those who forget this are unpatriotic. Congratulations. Jai Hind!

Please say Jai Hind with me three times.

Jai Hind! Jai Hind! Jai Hind!

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