From the Red Fort: Nehru's Independence Day Speech, 1949

Two Years of Independence

I had flown the tri-colour for the first time from these ramparts two years ago. Two years have gone by in our lives and two years have been added to the thousands of years of India’s history. Two years are not very long in many thousands of years of history. But all of us have witnessed a great many ups and downs, rejoiced over many events and have felt great sorrow too. 

We are birds of passage and will go after our work is done. But the work that we do will be enduring and will be taken up by others only if it is worthwhile. India too will go on while people come and go. There are grave problems before us and we are imprisoned and crushed by them. But we must face them and try to overcome them because our work will not be over until we solve those problems and millions of people in India have a better life. But sometimes it is proper to rise above our immediate preoccupations, look ahead, and see what is happening around us. We must forget our personal problems and think of the country.

There was a lime when the lamp lit by a great human being brought warmth to our hearts. Mahatmaji’s voice used to reverberate in our ears and hearts, and millions of us in India left our homes and our petty preoccupations, even forgetting our families, property and money, and jumped into the fray. At that time there was no question of personal benefit or position or office. The only goal was how to serve the country best and lead her to freedom. We dreamt a great dream, and very often there was a kind of madness, an obsession in all of us to make it come true. We dreamt of India’s freedom and with it the alleviation of the misery of millions. It was a great task.

Well, we got political freedom for India but another great problem remained unresolved. The problem was to ensure that all the people enjoy the benefits of that freedom. In the meantime, another great disaster descended upon us. Sixty lakhs of refugees poured into the country and they had to bear great hardships. All of you know how we faced that problem. We made mistakes but by and large, we were successful and somehow we stumbled on. We went ahead because we possessed strength and even hardships could not deter us. In my opinion, if you look at these two years, you will find a great many ills. But you will also see that India is forging ahead and consolidating its freedom. In spite of all our weaknesses and mistakes, the inner strength and self-confidence of the country pulls it forward. What was the source of the strength which had propelled us towards freedom? In what did we put our confidence in, that we were able to challenge the might of a great empire? We did not look to other countries for help. Nor did we put our trust in arms. We put our faith in ourselves, in our courage and inner resources, in a great leader and in the ultimate analysis in India, and went ahead. Finally we reached our goal after successfully overcoming the powerful forces of opposition.

Why then should we be afraid of anything today or give in to panic and anxiety? I agree that there are grave economic problems before us. I agree that there are millions of our refugees who have not been properly rehabilitated yet. We have to solve these problems. But there was something which helped us all along and sometimes even propelled a handful of men into acts of great daring which in turn influenced the rest of the country, and transformed the destiny of the nation. Is independent India lacking in that strength which enabled us to bring about a great revolution in the country? I feel that we possess that strength in abundance, even more so than before. The only drawback is that our minds are wandering a little and we get bogged down in petty issues and forget the larger ones. As citizens of a great country, we have to be large-hearted and broad-minded. Small men cannot do big things. They cannot solve problems by shouting slogans or making a noise or complaining and abusing one another. If each one of us, men and women, do our duty well, we will benefit personally and as a nation. If everyone thinks that it is the other man’s job, this country cannot get anywhere. Everyone must do his duty.

Our armed forces are excellent and the men have great courage. Our young men in the air force and navy too are good. They must all do their work well. Our government servants in various positions, big and small, must discharge their duties well and if the common people do their duty and all of us cooperate together you will see how quickly India can progress. But if we keep criticizing others instead of doing our own work, nothing can be done.

On this day, once again, I want to remind you, that we fought for freedom without arms, outside help, or money. Who fought? There were great leaders in the forefront and the biggest was, of course, Mahatma Gandhi. But, ultimately, the struggle for freedom was waged by the humblest of peasants and the poorest men in the country. The entire burden fell upon their shoulders. How did they win in the end? They won because they had courage and confidence in themselves and their leaders. If you compare those days to the present, you will find that we possess far greater strength in every way to fight against external as well as internal enemies. Therefore, it is strange that we should lose heart now and keep complaining. You must have confidence in yourselves and in the country. If we lacked confidence in our country and its future, how could we have done all that we did in the last thirty to forty years? 

Mahatma Gandhi was like a great beacon light who illumined our hearts and the bright star of independent India’s future oeckoned to us and gave us courage. It lightened our greatest burden. When we have far greater strength now why should we betray weakness and squabble among ourselves? The fact of the matter is that we have nothing to fear from outside. If the inner voice does not guide us properly, we will become weak. Internal disunity will weaken us further. We must learn this lesson well because it is a great testing time for all of us. It is always a testing time but specially so now, at this juncture in our history. We have completed one great task. Another task remains to be done. That is the task of improving the economic condition of the country and alleviating the hardships and sufferings of the common people. It is by no means an easy task and it is possible that we may not complete it in spite of our best efforts. Anyhow, we shall do our duty and those who follow us will carry on from where we leave.

The tasks of a nation are never ending. People come and go but a nation is immortal. There is a great task waiting to be completed. You must bear in mind two or three important things. One, no matter what our policies are, we cannot do anything unless there is peace in the country and an opportunity to work. I am saying this because many of our misguided youth indulge in hooliganism, rioting, killing and throwing bombs. I am amazed that any sensible thinking individual can do such unpatriotic things. No matter what our policies are, we can achieve nothing so long as there is chaos in the country. The only result will be the downfall of the country.

How are we to eradicate the poverty which afflicts the country? There are ways of doing so in an independent country. You have the right to change the laws, even the government. But it has to be done by peaceful, lawful methods. If some people insist on following the path of violence, it proves many things. Firstly, it proves that they do not believe in democracy. Secondly, it would seem that they are prepared to allow the people to fall into a worse condition and suffer greater hardships, in the hope that things will improve twenty years hence. It is quite certain that at the moment, the only consequence will be to increase the misery of the people. I am amazed that some of our youth think that they can serve the country by hooliganism and rioting. What amazes me even more is that even people who say that they are opposed to lawlessness actually side with these elements in the political field. They do so for some small benefit in elections. Elections come and go and defeat or victory is quite natural. But the problems before us are far greater than victory or defeat in elections. It is a question of India as a whole. If we forget that, and for personal ends or for the gain for the party we do something then who will be answerable for this crime? Therefore I want you to understand clearly that India can pwogress only when people stop fighting and do not indulge in hooliganism, but learn to work peacefully. This is the first thing.

Secondly, we must keep the larger issues before us and not allow ourselves to get bogged down in petty issues. Otherwise the larger issues get eclipsed and we will be submerged in a flood of petty preoccupations. We cannot allow that. 

Thirdly, we must have confidence in ourselves. We want friendship with the whole world. We also want that there should be amity among the millions of people in the country, irrespective of their caste, religion, occupation or province. We want that there should be love and cooperation among the people. We will accept any help that comes from outside. But ultimately we must have confidence in ourselves and not rely on outside help. We must always bear this in mind because those who rely on others become weak and when help from outside fails, they are helpless. 

Real freedom does not come from relying on others for military and economic protection. As I said, we have no enmity with others. We have no desire to interfere in the affairs of others. Every country has the right to follow the path it chooses, economically, politically and ideologically. It is not our business to interfere or cause upsets. Just as we want other countries to have freedom to act as they like, we too want the same freedom in our country. We cannot tolerate interference in our internal affairs or in our freedom. Therefore, we have evolved a policy to keep aloof from the big power blocs in the world. We have friendly relations with both the blocs and yet maintain our freedom to follow the path we have chosen. We feel that this is the policy best suited for our country and also because we feel that it is the only one by which we can serve the cause of world peace. If war breaks out in the world, it will bring ruin upon the world and India. A war in today’s world is capable of destroying the whole world. Therefore, it is our policy to throw our weight on the side of peace. We have evolved the policy of nonaiignment in the hope that we can serve the cause of world peace and perhaps help to reduce the tensions and enmity among the great powers in the world.

You may have heard that I am going to visit one of the most powerful countries of the world very soon.^ I shall be carrying the message of love and friendship on behalf of all of you. We want to maintain our freedom in every respect and extend a hand of friendship to all the countries of the world. We do not want enmity with any country.

There have been great revolutions in Asia in the last few years. You must have read in today’s newspapers about the coup in a small but famous country in Asia. I do not wish to comment on that. But I want to show you that the moment there is slackness and a veering away from the path of peace, there can be no stability. The country then becomes weak and falls.

In another great and ancient country of Asia, there have been great upheavals and revolutionary changes. We feel that the p>eople of that country have the right to do as they choose. It is not our business to interfere in their freedom or internal affairs or economic arrangements. We want friendship with everyone. What the people choose is right for that country. There can be no coercion in freedom. So on this day, let us look at these problems and try to learn something. The Constituent Assembly is drawing up the Constitution for India. In a few months India will don a new garb of a republic and the new Constitution will come into force. That is proper. But ultimately a nation is built not by laws and constitutions but by the courage, strength and ability of the people. The constitution-makers will draw up a constitution. But real history is written by the deeds and minds of brave men. The question is how much courage we have to write the history of India with our blood, sweat, toil and tears. If we have the courage the Constitution will be effective. Otherwise if we are bogged down by petty quarrels and refuse to cooperate with one another, we will prove ourselves unworthy of freedom. The Constitution will not be worth the paper it is written on.

However I have full confidence in the future of India. I am convinced that it will grow from strength to strength. I do not mean military might, though that is necessary too. But the real strength of a nation lies in its capacity to work hard. If we are to remove poverty from India, it will be done not by passing laws or shouting slogans but by the hard work of every single man, woman and child. There is no time for rest now. You must not think that now that we have got freedom we can sit back and relax. This is the time for hard work. This will be the work not of slaves but of an independent nation for future generations. It is an auspicious task which gladdens the heart. You must remember that every brick and stone that we put in place in this great edifice will endure for centuries. We may pass on but they will serve as reminders of the times when the strong foundations of independent India were laid and when men, women and children toiled to build this edifice. So it is our task to build the edifice of independent India. The most urgent problem before us is of food. There should be no wastage. Anyone who indulges in wasteful consumption in feasts, etc., commits a crime against the nation. When people are starving, it is a crime to waste food by holding feasts.

We must take hold of ourselves and understand the responsibilities of a free nation. We must march ahead with heads held high, quietly but firmly in tune with one another. If we are determined to do all this, we can solve our problems quickly. The problems will somehow get solved. We will pass on. But the important thing to bear in mind is that India will go on forever.

You and I are born at this juncture in India’s history. Let us show what we are capable of and do what we can in the service of India. This is a question which all of us must ask ourselves and help in this task. Jai Hind.

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