From the Red Fort: Nehru's Independence Day Speech, 1948


It is a year since we assembled nere last. A year has passed and all sorts of things happened in this one year and we suffered a great deal. Many a great storm came and many people floundered in the stormy seas. Even so India managed to face the ordeal and cross the seas by making use of its strong arms. Many good and bad developments took place in this one year. But the greatest event that happened this year and caused the greatest shock to us was the passing away of the Father of the Nation. 

Last year when I addressed you, my heart was light and I had said that whatever problems and difficulties might confront us, we had a tremendous power to support us which would always show us the right path and give us courage. So we were not worried. But that support is no longer there and we have now to rely on our own strength and intellect. It was proper that many of us went to Rajghat this morning and paid our homage at that sacred place. In fact we should not go there only on particular days like these to remember him. Rather the proper thing would be that his teachings should be impressed on our hearts and we should follow them and take India also along that path. For about thirty years he led India on the path to freedom and gradually increased the strength of the nation. He eradicated tear from the hearts of the Indians and ultimately achieved freedom for India. He completed his work.

How far have we done our duty? We had to face many dangers and troubles, but I feel that if we had stuck to the path shown by him these dangers would not have arisen, and even if they had, they would have quickly disappeared. So the first thing that I want to tell you is this that you should always remember, and specially today, the principles by following which you and we made India free. We should also see whether we are still following those principles or want to adopt some other path. As far as I am concerned, I want to tell you that the more I have thought about it, the more convinced I have become that, in order to maintain India's independence and enable her to make progress, and in order to make her a great country, not in terms of length and breadth but in deeds for which she would be respected in the world, in order to do all these things, we ourselves will have to grow in stature and tread the path shown by Mahatmaji. 

India is a tremendous phenomenon with a history of thousands of years. But after all, what is India today apart from you and I and the millions of people who live in this country? If we are good and strong, India is strong and if we are weak, India is weak. If there is strength and courage and ability in us, then they become India's strength. If we are disunited and weak, then India is also weak. India is not a thing apart from us; we are little pieces of India. We are her children and at the same time you must remember that what we think and do today that shapes the India of tomorrow. There is a great responsibility on you and me and the inhabitants of India. We shout Jai Hind and Bharat Mata Ki Jai but Jai Hind is possible only if we follow the right path and serve the country rightly and do nothing which might affect its honour or make it weak.

In the last one year we have overcome great difficulties, but there is no doubt that we showed great weakness, made numerous big mistakes and strayed away much from our right path. We forgot India and began to think of our own communities and provinces and became selfish. If we indulge in selfishness, hatred and quarrels, the country goes down. Yet we endured all this and after this one year we are not only alive in this free India but are vibrantly alive and strong and full of courage. 

So in the present-day world when in some places war is going on and in some other places there is a talk of future war or on which side should we be and what should we do. I do not wish to talk of wars to you especially on this day. But I would certainly say that those who want freedom should be prepared to defend and protect heir freedom and sacrifice themselves for it.

The moment a nation becomes slack it becomes weak and falls. Therefore, we have to be always prepared. At the same time, I would also like to tell you that we do not maintain an army or produce military equipment in order to dominate any other country but to protect our freedom, and if necessary, to help defend freedom in the world. We have been in bondage for so long that it has bred in us a feeling of hatred for it. Therefore, how can we think of subjugating others? I would therefore, specially today, like to talk to you about peace because the fundamental lesson taught by Mahatma Gandhi was one of peace and non-violence. It is perhaps true that because of our weakness we could not tread the path of peace and non-violence fully but more or less we did walk along that path and so today India commands great respect in the world. I and you did some work sometimes good and sometimes bad. But if the world bows before India today and respects it, it is due to one man—the great man who led us to freedom. He made the world bow before him. Is it proper for us to forget the lesson of such a man? The fundamental lesson that he taught us was that we should work together, adopt peaceful methods, there should be unity among us, and there should be no communal or religious feuds in our country or the world. Do you know what emerges from the thousands of years of Indian history and what is fundamental to the Indian culture? It is tolerance, it is not to indulge in religious feuds. Whoever comes here we deal with him with love and adopt him. At a time when we have won our freedom, shall we forget the lesson of thousands of years of our country? And if we forget it, India will not remain a big country, it will become small. 

You and I had dreamt of India’s freedom. What was there in those dreams? It was not merely that British rule be removed and that we should again live in a lowly state. Our dream was that the millions in India should be uplifted, their poverty and unemployment should be removed, and they should get food and clothing and houses to live in. We dreamt of providing education to every child and opportunity to every Indian to take care of himself, make progress and serve the country, and thus the whole country should rise. A nation does not progress by a few people occupying seats in high offices. A nation grows when its people are well off and capable of making progress. We also dreamt that when the doors were opened for India’s millions, hundreds of thousands of them would come up as firstrate people who would earn name and fame and have an impact on the world.

All those things are still far away because we got entangled in disputes and quarrels. But we have to complete that task and until we do that our freedom is not complete. Until then we cannot whole-heartedly say even Jai Hind. You and I are faced with serious problems. In this city of Delhi and in many other places in the country, our numerous refugee brethren are faced with great hardships. Some arrangements have been made for some of them, but there are many who are still suffering. Prices are also rising, which is another cause of great hardship to the people. These are all big problems.

No doubt, it is our responsibility to whom you have given the seats of power, but you must also remember that in an independent country no problems can be solved unless there is full cooperation and help of the people. You have the right to criticize and raise objections. It is correct, because no country can be run by its people always remaining quiet and accepting everything blindly. But if you are a free nation, then mere criticism is not enough.

You have to bear the burden and extend your help and cooperation. And if all of us do so even the biggest problems can be solved. You are assembled here in hundreds of thousands. Each one of you man and woman, boy and girl—may please ask yourself what service you have rendered to India, what big or small work you have done for the country each day. For it is the foremost duty of each one of us to do some service to the country. If each one of us does even a little, the sum total will become quite large. But if we think that the responsibility is entirely of a few officers or of those who are sitting in the seats of power, then it is wrong.

Free countries do not function in this way— it is only slave countries which think like this and are run in this way. When alien rulers rule a country, they may do what they like but in a free country, if you want freedom and its advantages, you have to take on the responsibilities of freedom also. You should also accept the consequences of freedom as well as its discipline. We have not yet been able to get rid of our old habits of slavery and want that everything should be done from the above without any effort on our part. Therefore, I want you to understand that, if you have become free, you must behave like a free nation and be prepared to accept its burdens and responsibilities.

I would like to say something to our bureaucrats too—both the old and the new. The old method has many good points which they must keep but give up its several bad points. Now they cannot work in the old way because they have to help in building up the country and cooperate with the people. They have also to seek the support and cooperation of the people.

As you are aware, these days everywhere the working of our Government is looked down upon. Therefore, I want all our officers, high and low, to consider this to be a period of trial for them as well as for us who are in power and positions of responsibility. They should do this work honestly and with a sense of responsibility and without showing partiality to anyone. The moment an officer or a responsible person takes sides, he is no longer fit to be in that post. We need able people to undertake the big tasks before us but even more important than ability are honesty, truthfulness and the spirit of service. If we do not serve well and there is no honesty in us, then where will our ability lead us to? Ability alone can even cause harm to the nation. So the first lesson to be borne in mind is that we have to lead this country on the path of truth and honesty which is a fundamental lesson taught to us by Mahatma Gandhi and which we followed more or less for the last so many years, because of which India gained respect in the world and even today, though we are still weak and often stumble, the people of the world look towards India. It is also because we gave a new method to our politics. It is generally assumed that politics is a matter of trickery and acts of telling lies. But the politics in India, as taught by Mahatma Gandhi, had no scope for trickery or lies. Even now people think that nations make progress by unscrupulous methods. But neither an individual nor a nation makes any progress by cunning ways. May be sometimes they may gain something. Especially those nations which claim to be great in the world cannot go very far by deceiving and misleading others. They advance by their courage, honesty, bravery and service. Therefore, this lesson has to be borne by us in mind, especially at this time, and the feeling of bitterness and retaliation which is in our hearts has also to be eradicated. Well, if there is any danger from an enemy, we will certainly face it. But by harbouring feelings of bitterness, resentment and anger we become weak, our energy is wasted and we cannot do any big work. 

What is politics? And what is the work of a country? Politics is based on some ideology. But ultimately a country goes the way its millions go. The work of a nation is the sum total of the small bits of work of its millions. What is the wealth of a nation? It is what is earned by you, by everybody and by the people of the country by their labour. Wealth after all does not come from above. The work of a country is the sum total of the work of its millions. If we have to remove poverty from the country we can do so by doing work and producing wealth thereby. People think that wealth should come from outside which we can distribute. We get demands from all over—from princes as well as institutions. But from where docs the money come? It comes through the work of the people and what they earn by their labour. What the farmer earns from his land, the worker in his factory and the shopkeeper from his shop, constitute the wealth of a nation. And this is how the wealth of a nation increases and the country progresses. If we want that the country should make progress, then giving advice to others is of no use. For this we have to see what we ourselves are doing for the progress of the country, what work and service we are doing and thus how much wealth we are producing. If we think in this manner, we will advance our country rapidly, make it a strong and great and prosperous country in the world. And if we think only in terms of quarrels among ourselves and with others, then we will remain weak and the world, which shows respect to us because of Mahatma Gandhi, would also respect us less.

Today is a good day for us to take stock of the situation and see the manner in which we managed to overcome difficulties during the past one year. We can certainly take a pride—a national pride, not the pride of an individual—over what we were able to accomplish during the year that has passed. But it is even more important to pay attention to our weaknesses, to those tasks which remain undone and to our mistakes committed in the past and to their rectification. We have specially to remember those fundamental principles which we have followed in the past and not let them grow dim, and continue to follow the path shown by the Father of the Nation, and not let the poison of communalism, which wrecked so much havoc upon India and led to its break-up, spread again. I really want to warn you about this because we once slackened and that poison spread and caused great damage to the country. Ultimately a great shock came to us when it caused the murder of the Father of the Nation. It had a terrible effect on the country which was inevitable. But people’s memories are short and things are forgotten quickly, and I see that some people are again straying away. I find that some undesirable people are again raising their heads, and their voices can mislead the people. Therefore, I want you to think about it and consider it because it is a dangerous phenomenon. Not only today, but since I started serving India, I have had full confidence that India will be a great independent country and that no power can ultimately check her because the strength which we have been developing is an inner strength the strength of the heart; it is not merely an external strength of the arms. I had this faith and worked with this faith and conviction and continue to do so even today. But when I see some people leading others astray or inciting them to think and act in a narrow-minded way and inflaming communal passions, I feel very sad that some of our own brethren should go astray to such an extent. These people claim that they will make India great, but as a matter of fact they are digging at the very roots of her existence and sullying the honour of India.

We don’t face any danger from external enemies at the moment. We are strong enough for them. But if we allow the poison of communalism to spread, we will do an irreparable damage to ourselves. This poison has lowered India’s prestige in the world and we feel ashamed because of this. Today let us take this pledge before our Flag that we will forget our differences. Only then this will be an auspicious day. If we continue to fight, then this will not be an auspicious day for us. A great man lived in our country and made not only India but the whole world great. Let us ask ourselves whether we are following the path shown by him or not.

Nobody can progress without getting out of the rut. The path of truth is the only path for progress and prosperity for us. Thereby our strength will increase and no enemy will dare confront us.

So far as we are concerned we have held aloft the torch of Indian freedom given to us by our elders. But now our times are also passing. So now the responsibility of looking after it and keeping it aglow has fallen on your shoulders. Every child of India has to see to it that this torch of freedom is always brightly lit. People come and go but countries and nations are immortal. If one hand becomes weak and is unable to hold the torch aloft, thousands of more hands should come forward to hold it. Jai Hind.

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