Why India got Freedom at Midnight
We all grew up “by-hearting” Jawaharlal Nehru’s Tryst With Destiny speech, but do you know why India was going to be awake at the stroke of the midnight hour?
The answer, in a word: astrology. Read on.
Why is 15 August celebrated as India’s Independence Day?
Yes. Here’s the thing–15 August was not supposed to be Independence Day. In 1929, when Nehru gave the call for Poorna Swaraj (Complete Independence) in Lahore, it was declared that 26 January 1930 would be our first Independence Day. This, as we know, did not happen. Eventually, when freedom from the British Raj was imminent, Mountbatten was to transfer power to India by 30 June 1948 and India and Pakistan would be given Dominion status. He decided to advance these plans to minimise bloodshed and riot (that worked out well, didn’t it?), and in fact, Cyril Radcliffe, the barrister whom he had tasked with drawing up the boundaries (who had never even been to India before this, by the way), submitted his final draft on 9 August–just five days before the event.
Years later, in a book called Freedom at Midnight, Mountbatten is quoted as saying, “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.” (Mountbatten served as Supreme Allied Commander of the Southeast Asia Command in World War II, who later signed on Japan’s formal surrender.)
So why midnight?
All right, you say. So 15 August was chosen, and then what happened? Well, a number of astrologers believed that 15 August in 1947 was an inauspicious date. And it couldn’t be a day earlier, because Mountbatten was in Karachi, delivering the King’s message of Independence to Pakistan (one reason it is believed that Pakistan changed its date from 15 to 14 August from 1948). The solution, it seemed to the powers that were, lay in between. And so it is that at 11pm on 14 August, Delhi’s Parliament House was full as Nehru, Dr Rajendra Prasad and Dr Radhakrishnan spoke to a hopeful India, Ustad Bismillah Khan played the shehnai and Sucheta Kripalani sang Vande Mataram, Saare Jahan Se Achha and the National Anthem, as outside, thousands thronged the streets to celebrate, lighting lamps and painting the town tiranga as we awoke to life and freedom.