Mainstream, Vol XLV No 23
The First War of Independence
Thursday 31 May 2007, by
[(May 27 this year marks the fortythird death anniversary of the architect of modern India, Jawaharlal Nehru; on this occasion we are carrying here the text of his address, as the first Prime Minister of independent India, at Delhi’s Ramlila Grounds, on May 10, 1957, to observe the centenary of our First War of Independence that the Britishers had contemptuously described as Sepoy Mutiny. This is available in the Selected Works of Jawaharlal Nehru (May 1-July 31, 1957), Vol. 38 (edited by Mushirul Hasan); it is being reproduced, with due acknowledgement, from there.)]
Sisters and brothers,
…I am appearing before you after a long time to mark a special occasion. I would like to draw your attention to some issues which are especially relevant today.
The newly constituted Lok Sabha met today at 11 o’clock to take the oath of office to serve India honestly and sincerely within the parameters of our Constitution. Though it is a formality, it is of great significance because when someone takes an oath with honesty and integrity, he moves on to a higher plane from the mundane, day-to-day life. It is a coincidence that the second Lok Sabha was sworn in today on the 10th of May, exactly a hundred years from the day on which the first war of independence, or the mutiny as some people call it, began in the city of Meerut. We did not choose this date deliberately. But since it has coincided with that historic day, it adds to the importance of this occasion. The Lok Sabha observed a two-minute silence in memory of all those who laid down their lives in 1857.
The real work of the Lok Sabha will begin from the 13th of this month with the Presidential Address. As you know, the President has been re-elected for another term. According to our Constitution, the President addresses both Houses of Parliament every year. That will be on the 13th of this month. Again, by a strange coincidence, the 13th also happens to be a special day for Buddha Jayanti falls on that day. You will notice there is a striking coincidence in our newly constituted Parliament being sworn in on the hundredth anniversary of the beginning of the first war of independence and in the actual commencement of the work of Parliament on the Buddha Jayanti day. We must keep both these things in mind. It is not enough to think of either in isolation.
You must have heard about the war of independence which broke out in Meerut, Delhi, Lucknow and many other parts of India though very few people perhaps know the details. Almost all the earlier books and accounts of the events of 1857 were written by Englishmen. Therefore they are naturally biased: while the role of the Englishmen is praised, the Indians are dubbed as traitors and mutineers. It is true that some Englishmen have also accepted that the movement could have another aspect and praised the leaders of the movement. Rani Lakshmi Bai of Jhansi in particular has been praised by the English officers of those days. Indians of course did not dare to write anything because during the period immediately following the events of 1857 great atrocities were committed and the people were crushed with a brutal hand. So they were afraid. Even the accounts written by Indians a little later were not very balanced historical records. They tended to lean the other way.
The time has come when we can view the events of a hundred years ago objectively and without heat. A new genre of books is now beginning to be published. One was released today.1 It was commissioned by the Government two or three years ago and is written by a very well known historian. Yet another book has been published, giving graphic details of the incidents of 1857.2 It goes into the question of whether what happened in 1857 can be called a war of independence or not. Opinions differ on that. Anyhow people must read these books.
I remember that when I was a child, which was a long time ago, there were still people around who had seen or heard about the incidents of 1857. When I was nine or ten years old, I used to listen to the tales of those old people about what happened in 1857-58 in Allahabad, Delhi, Lucknow and other places. They were real stories and the people recounting them had experienced them at first hand. As you know, such things make a deep impression on a child’s mind. It made a deep impression on me and filled me with anger.
Historians now write treaties full of complex arguments which is all right. We must read their works no doubt. But I have often wondered what impact the events of 1857 made on the minds of the common people in India. Later, when I had the opportunity of visiting Awadh and the rural areas of Allahabad district, I often heard tales of 1857 in those parts. People still talked about whole villages being burnt down as punishment. What I mean to say is that I found even the minds of the peasantry filled with the events of 1857. So there is no doubt about it that the events of 1857 did make an indelible impression on a very large part of the country. It is true that it was not the whole of India but the northern belt, Uttar Pradesh, Madhya Bharat, Bihar, Delhi, and a part of Calcutta, Barrackpore, which was affected.
What led to this great outburst in 1857? It is obvious that it was an expression of the people’s anger against the British takeover of the country, and an attempt to get rid of them. Who was responsible—individuals or groups? As far as it is known, it was not a coordinated movement. But there was a general feeling of resentment spread over the whole of north India and one spark was enough to ignite a whole conflagration. There was an attempt at some coordination and you must have heard stories of chapatis being distributed, to spread the message among the people, to be prepared. But as far as it is known the movement was not organised. It was more a question of everyone taking advantage of the widespread resentment among various sections of society, particularly in the upper classes, the princes, zamindars and jagirdars and to some extent among the masses. If you say that it was an expression of deep-seated resentment against British rule and an attempt to oust it, you would be absolutely right. There is no doubt about it.
You must think a little of the circumstances which led to the establishment of British rule. That is a strange story too. It did not happen with a bang, after a great military victory, but came about gradually. People did not even realise that it was happening. The British came in search of trade and gradually acquired other rights. They bided their time for almost a hundred years and called themselves vassals of the Mughal emperor. Even their coins were issued in the name of theMughal emperor. For almost a hundred years they kept up a pretence of allowing things to go on unchanged. It was under the cloak of commerce that the British set themselves up in India. Ultimately a time came when the Mughal emperor was virtually a prisoner in the Red Fort at Delhi and his empire had diminished to just that Fort. It did not extend even to the city of Delhi. It took a long time for the common people to realise that someone else was in power. It was the same in Bengal too. In the beginning, the British were given diwani and gradually they assumed control over the State and established an empire. Just a short while before the events of 1857, they had annexed Awadh, ousting the Nawab, thus revealing their hand openly for the first time. The people were shocked to realise who their real rulers were. Until then, the British had remained in the background.
Anyhow, whatever the reasons, there can be no doubt about it that the revolt of 1857 was an expression of the people’s emotions against the establisment of British rule in India. It was not an organised movement when it began. But incidents in one place triggered off a chain reaction. But none of it would have been possible if a great deal of resentment had not already existed among the people.
I want you to bear in mind one thing in this context which people often fail to realise. India was attacked by foreign invaders, time and again, during her long history. It is believed that the Aryans came to India four to five thousand years ago crossing the mountains and settled down in this land. Then came invaders from other lands, the Huns, the Scythians and others. But all of them settled down in India and adopted it as their own country. Irrespective of their religion and their status as conquerors they came to regard India as their home. The Arabs came, though in small numbers, to the borders, and settled in Sindh. Then came the Turks, the Afghans and the Mughals. But in a very short while they had intermingled with the local people. They had no homeland except India. So they learnt to live in amity with the others. The establishment of British rule in India is of special significance because for the first time in the thousands of years of Indian history, the foreign invaders owed loyalty to another country. India was merely a country over which they ruled. It made a great difference. In a sense, before the coming of the British, no matter who ruled India, it was independent. It had anIndian Government with its roots in India’s soil and which owed no allegiance to anyone else. So, in a sense, in spite of the great upheavals which took place from time to time, India remained an independent nation. For the first time in thousands of years the trend was reversed. A nation which lay thousands of miles away ruled India through its representatives. This was the great difference which the coming of the British and the establishment of their empire in India made.
When the other invaders marched into India, there was fighting in the beginning, but gradually they settled down and mingled with the people. India became their home. The races and cultures intermingled and influenced one another, and gradually learnt to live together in amity. The Britsh however, came and stayed here for a certain length of time and went back. They did not mingle with the local population. You must bear in mind that the India of today is the product of the intermingling of various races and cultures over thousands of years. There is Scythian and Hun blood in the great Rajput clans. They came to conquer India two thousand years ago and within a generation or two, assumed Indian clan names and settled down. They realised that their stature was enhanced by claiming descent from the Sun and the Moon. It is absurd to think of ourselves as being of pure blood, separate from other races of the world. India has evolved as a nation through the intermingling of various races and cultures.
It is only the British who refused to mingle. If they had no other home to go back to constantly as it happened with other races, they too would have been absorbed in the melting pot of India. But their loyalty was to Britain and moreover the differences between the two cultures were great. So they could not mix. So India was for the first time conquered by a people which ruled us from a distant land.
It is obvious that the British came and conquered India because they were advanced in modern science and technology. They were tougher, more inquiring, disciplined and had the quality to work in unity. India had become stagnant and the people were divided into small compartments. So we became backward and weak. Individually, there were people of high quality. But as a nationwe had become stagnant. So, as was inevitable, the more advanced and stronger nation with superior weapons came and conquered us. They had great courage and the spirit of adventure, which is evident from the fact that they had to cross thousands of miles of ocean to come to India. It required great courage and endurance. Hundreds of people died on the way yet the others did not give up.
In India, on the other hand, things had become so bad that it was considered foreign to leave one’s own village. Crossing the seas was considered destructive of one’s religion and those who dared to do so were ex-communicated. It was extremely stupid and all the emphasis was on rituals and shibboleths. How could a people whose attention was constantly absorbed by such trivial matters hope to progress? Casteism grew more and more rigid and people lived in small compartments. So the fact of the matter is that though the feelings against British rule were strong, the spirit of nationalism amongst Indians was not strong. Few people thought in terms of India as a whole. Indian society in those times was extremely feudal, consisting of princes and talukedars and zamindars. Even the leaders of the revolt were the princes. Not that there was anything wrong in that. I am merely pointing out the kind of social organisation that prevailed then. The peasants followed their leaders. But in the India of those times only the princes and big landlords could be the leaders. They revolted because the British were gradually reducing them in stature. Some revolted in the name of their state or religion and others for personal benefits. All these factors came together in 1857.
I shall not go into its history. There are two or three broad facts to be kept in mind. One, there is no doubt about it that whatever the causes behind it may have been, it was an Indian struggle for independence. It was an expression of resentment against the yoke of foreign rule and an attempt to get rid of it. What might have followed if the movement had succeeded is a different matter. Secondly, it is true that the religious sentiments of the Hindus and the Muslims were hurt by the suspicion that the British were forcing them to use bullets which had pork in it. But it is wrong to say that that was the cause of the revolt. The real reason was people’s anger against British rule and other factors including religion were part of it. You will find that throughout those two years, there was nocommunal disharmony of any kind in spite of our ingrained habit of internecine feuds. Both Hindus and Muslims participated in the movement and in victory as well as in defeat, they marched shoulder to shoulder. This is something noteworthy.
But, when the British entrenched themselves strongly on Indian soil, a rift between the Hindus and Muslims developed. Is that not strange? Before the coming of the British, Muslims ruled over most parts of India. It is true that in the later years, Mughal power had weakened. Shivaji had dealt a great blow to it and weakened it considerably. When the British arrived, the Marathas ruled over many parts of India. Yet the people accepted Muslim rule. In fact for years after the British had entrenched themselves fully, they had to take the shelter of the Mughal rulers. They did not dare even to mint coins in their own name. They continued to use the Mughal emperor as the figurehead. The memory of the power of the Mughals was very strong both among Hindus and Muslims.
So the events of 1857 proved that by and large, except for stray incidents, there was communal harmony. The rift appeared only later and widened because the British followed a policy of divide and rule in order to maintain their hold over the empire. So they adopted the policy of deliberately fomenting communal passions and religious antagonism. They had separate regiments of Hindus, Muslims, and Sikhs because they did not want them to develop a spirit of nationalism. This went on for years.
About twenty-eight years after the revolt of 1857, the Indian National Congress was born. For nearly twenty years or so after 1857, the people were too afraid to raise their heads. Then gradually they regained their spirit and the Indian National Congress was born in 1885. There were Hindus, Muslims, Christians and people of all other religions in it. It had small beginnings but within two or three years it began to worry the British because Hindus and Muslims were uniting under one banner. Immediately they started a policy of intimidating the people in the Congress, most of whom belonged to the upper classes then. Their effort was mainly to prevent Muslims from joining the Congress. As a result, the Muslims were kept apart at many levels.
Some more years passed and, for the first time, the question of elections to the assemblies came up in 1909 and the Minto-Morley reforms wereintroduced. It was a very small step towards giving local autonomy. The concept of separate electorates for Hindus and Muslims was introduced then. You can see how the whole thing progressed from 1857 onwards. The British realised the havoc that the two united communities could cause. So they thought of separate electorates. The interesting thing is that the Viceroy called a few of the top Muslim leaders and zamindars and asked them to come to him in a deputation seeking a separate electorate for the Muslims. He indicated that he would agree to it. So a delegation under the leadership of the Aga Khan3 went to the Viceroy4—the very same gentleman who is alive to this day but has grown very old. Well, he declared that the Muslims would be suppressed unless they were granted a separate electorate. You can appreciate the cunning of the Viceroy. Having instigated the demand, he made a pretence of considering it and eventually accepted it.
This is how the seeds of communal hatred and bitterness were sown. Then it gradually spread among the Sikhs and others. Even today it is extremely dangerous to bring religion into politics and elections. I have tried to show you how, in spite of all the difficulties, there was complete harmony between the Hindus and Muslims in 1857. The rift appeared later, at the instigation of the British. This is one thing.
On the other hand, there is something else about 1857, which must not be forgotten though it is not very pleasant. We pay homage to the memory of the great men who gave their lives to free India from the yoke of foreign rule. But we must also remember that ultimately their efforts were foiled with the help of Indians themselves. Many of our countrymen helped the British against their own kith and kin. No nation, particularly a vast country like ours, could be defeated except through its own weaknesses. It is only when one’s own countrymen turn traitors and stab their own brothers in the back that a country falls. You will find innumerable instances in Indian history, on the one hand, of courage, sacrifice and bravery and, on the other hand, of treachery, disunity, deception and helping the enemy.
The story of Mir Jaffer and Umi Chand is famous in Bengal. If you read history, you will find that British rule was established in India not because of the superior might of the British except in some cases but by the cunning and the treachery of some Indians. Many big provinces were createdas a reward for treachery. Zamindaris and talukedaris were given as a reward for siding with the British. Is there some special weakness in us as a people that a few of us strike at the very roots of the nation’s existence by our treachery?
Well, very few people deliberately resort to treachery. But there are many people who are more than willing to foment disunity and create dissensions. That is almost commonplace. I will not call it treachery but the effect is the same for it weakens the nation and strengthens the enemy’s hand. This is a great shortcoming in us, lack of unity and the habit of getting carried away, of internal dissension and fissiparous tendencies, whether it is in the name of religion, province, language or caste. I am not saying anything new. These are very old habits of ours.
However, as far as the revolt of 1857 was concerned, though there were grave shortcomings, like the absence of one central leadership, the lack of proper arrangements or resources, there was no disunity. We as an independent nation are much more prone to give in to this weakness. Perhaps we have become complacent after getting freedom and feel that we can behave as we like. But that is absolutely wrong. Freedom can never be consolidated absolutely. It is always in danger and threats abound on all sides to submerge it. If a nation is not prepared or lacks unity, it is bound to flounder. This is the lesson that our entire history teaches us. If we forget the fundamental rules and become complacent or talk vaguely in the air, our freedom will be in peril.
This is what I am chiefly concerned about and I want you to share my concern because we are living in dangerous times. Not a day passes without a mention of nuclear weapons and missiles in the newspapers. You can destroy a city a thousand or two thousand miles away with the help of a missile. Experts believe that even the nuclear test explosions, which are undertaken regularly, pollute the atmosphere and increase the danger of atomic radiation. Nobody knows how many millions have been affected by it already. If the level of radiation increases even slightly the atmosphere could become poisonous. Radiation is an extremely dangerous things.
You may have heard that one atom bomb coulddestroy the whole of Delhi. What can you do to escape? Some people may be able to escape into the jungles. But the city will be finished. Today there are more powerful and lethal weapons in the arsenals of the nations of the world. A direct hit is of course lethal. But the effects of radiation are more long lasting and dangerous. It affects everything all around including food and water. It can cause cancer and other skin and bone diseases even four or five years later. If a hydrogen bomb is exploded 5000 miles away, it may not affect us directly. But radiation permeates the atmosphere for thousands of miles and persists for years to come. If a nuclear explosion takes place in the Soviet Union or the Pacific we could be affected by its fallout in Delhi. Anyhow, many people believe that unless nuclear tests are banned, they will harm the world greatly. You cannot escape the consequences of nuclear fallout. If there is a nuclear war, of course, it would mean total annihilation.
What is the course open to us in such a dangerous situation? We do not have the strength to take on the responsibilities of the whole world. It would be absurd for us to make tall claims. Our first priority is to make India economically strong so that our voice is heard with respect in the world. We must foster national unity and progress quickly through industrialisation. For one thing, it would mean economic betterment for the country and, secondly, we will acquire the strength to defend ourselves. I do not mean that we can escape the consequences of a nuclear war because nobody is safe from that. But we can do a great deal to make India economically strong.
On the other hand, though there has been tremendous progress in the field of science and technology in the world, what of man’s intellect and emotions? Einstein, one of the greatest scientists the world has produced, took the first great step towards the atomic age by discovering the way to split the atom. Mankind has acquired a great source of energy. But it has now become a genie, which threatens to go out of control. In his last years, Einstein was filled with remorse for what he had done. He said repeatedly that atomic power could not be kept under control by yet more nuclear weapons. It is such a lethal thing that a totally different kind of strength is necessary to keep it under control. The great scientist felt that ultimately it is only when there is a change in human nature for the better and mankind is rid of the feelings of hatred andbitterness and violence that atomic energy can be brought under control. Einstein was no religious person.
We have reached a point in history where, unless the whole of mankind adopts the right path and eschews violence, feelings of revenge and bitterness, whatever the leaders at the top do and say will be of no consequence. Even today, the great powers are not willing to give up nuclear weapons. They talk of partial test ban and what not. Such half measures are of no use. I want you to think about this. It is a strange thing that the power to wreak violence has increased to such an extent with the invention of nuclear weapons that it can no longer be kept under a leash by moving further down that path. The world needs something else. So we come around once again to the path shown by the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi. I do not know if the world will ever follow that path wholeheartedly. But I have no doubt whatsoever in my mind that there is no alternative. I am not saying this as a religious dogma though every religion in the world, whether it is Islam or Christianity or Hinduism, advocates peace. I mentioned the Buddha and Mahatma Gandhi because they were born in India. But Jesus Christ and Hazrat Muhammad also preached the same ideals. It is difficult to live up to those ideals in this world of harsh realities. It is now an imperative to prevent the impending doom.
We have just had the general elections. What I am going to say now is not limited to any one party. I am naturally parital to the Congress for I belong to it and I feel that it is very essential for the Congress party to remain at the helm of affairs to maintain India’s uity. But I am not referring to any party in particular. Apart from a few setbacks here and there, the Congress has won with a thumping majority. So I can have no complaint. But I have been perturbed by these elections, not in regard to any party but the trends, which have come to the fore, of narrowmindedness, casteism and disregard for the larger national interests. I would like to tell you that these evils are to be found in all the parties, including the Congress. I do not absolve the Congress. I dare to say this because I am not trying to exmpt myself or my party.
We must pay attention to this aspect because there is a grave danger that the country may be split up and weakened under the pretence of democracy if casteism and narrowmindedness became more rampant. This is an extremely serious problem. As I have often told you, India is one entity on the map, with one government and one law. But India can become a nation only when there is complete emotional integration. We talk of nationalism and patriotism and there is no doubt about it that we do have these feelings, for otherwise we could not have won freedom. But behind that thin veneer of nationalism, you find a strange hollowness and weakness.
Last year there were riots in many parts of India over the question of language. Every Indian language is a precious heritage. But why fight over it? There were riots and fighting and the language issue has coloured people’s thinking even in these elections. We are living in an era when the world is facing a grave crisis because if there is a nuclear war, it could lead to complete annihilation of human civilisation. We do not wish to go to war with anyone. But we cannot escape the consequences if there is a war. Internally, India is at a crucial stage of its development and there are tremendous problems. We are in the middle of the Second Five Year Plan. Now that we have taken the plunge, we cannot retreat in midstream. We have to go on somehow. India is in the middle of a great adventure just now with the Five Year Plans, industrialisation, community development schemes, etc. We have taken on these great tasks with confidence and from Kashmir to Kanyakumari, the country is brimming with activity.
You must bear in mind that these activities do not bear fruit immediately. For instance, take the steel plants that we are building. A poor country like India is investing 400 crores of rupees on three steel plants. We have taken loans and aid for we could not have gone ahead without that. But it will take four to five years before they go into production. Until then we have to tighten our belts and carry a heavy burden.
I can give you many more such examples. We have decided to set up a machine-building plant in India because until we do so, we will remain dependent on Germany, Japan, the Soviet Union, England and others. We want to be able to build the heaviest machinery in our country. Once wehave the infrastructure we will become free and self-reliant. We do not have to go to anyone. We have decided to do this. But all this requires vast sums of money. The machine-building plant will cost ninety or a hundred crores. The machines will become available only six to seven years later. At the moment we have to invest the money which casts a great burden upon the nation. But there is no alternative. We will reap the benefit later. Unless we take these bold steps, we will continue to stagnate in the mire of poverty. So we have to keep a balance between two things: we have to ensure that while the future is bright the present should not be too burdensome. We have no choice. The burden of taxation has to be borne. On the one hand people’s expectations are rising which is a good thing. On the other hand, we can raise their standard of living only by laying strong foundations for the future, which means that we will reap the benefit only a few years hence.
It is in this context that I said that we took a great plunge when we started the Five Year Plans. Now we cannot stop midstream for we will be neither here nor there. We have to finish building the steel plants whether we have to invest a hundred crores or four hundred crores. Only then will we reap the benefit. Similarly, we have to complete the river valley schemes, like the Bhakra-Nangal, Damodar Valley, Hirakud, Tungabhadra and Nagarjuna spread all over the country. We could have decided right in the beginning that we do not have the strength and determination to do all this. But that would have meant continuing to be poor, weak and downtrodden. A great nation like India could not have taken such a decision. So we decided to wage a war against poverty which has meant shouldering a heavy burden. We are trying to achieve in a few years what the West did in 150 years and the Soviet Union did in thirty or forty years since the Russian Revolution. Naturally the burden upon us is great and we have to go ahead against tremendous odds. We want India to have a strong economy and we want to raise the standard of living of the people. In short, we have dared to take the plunge and now we have to swim to the other side.
So we have to pit all our energy into the task of completing the great projects that we have taken up. It means that we should strengthen the structure of our society by fostering unity and byengaging the attention of the people in the task of nation-building instead of frittering away their energy in futile squabbles. A disturbing trend during these elections was the stone-throwing indulged in by our youth in many places. What is the kind of education that we are giving them that they stoop to such things? The people of India are strong and brave. But they are easily misled and often do wrong things. That is why I am drawing your attention to all this.
Violence has always been bad. But I have reached the conclusion that the capacity of mankind to inflict violence has increased so much that violence can no longer be combated by violence.
Let me give you an example. If the great powers possessing nuclear weapons wanted to destroy India we would have nothing to defend ourselves with. We are not going to produce nuclear weapons. For one thing, even if we try we cannot acquire this capability for years. Secondly, we do not wish to go in for nuclear weapons. We will certainly produce atomic energy for peaceful purposes, not for war. There are only two or three great powers in the world which possess nuclear weapons and we have nothing to fear from them. But I am giving you an example to show that if one of them were to attack us or threaten to do so, it is obvious that we do not possess weapons to combat nuclear weapons. What can we do against a hydrogen bomb? But I have no doubt whatsoever that no country, no matter what powerful weapons it may possess, can overcome us if we are strong and united as a nation. We have an army, navy and air force for India’s defence. Our young men in the armed forces are excellent and it gladdens one’s heart to meet them. But I know that we cannot compete with the great powers in armed strength. It would be like combating guns and cannons with bows and arrows.
We have friendly relations with the great powers. That is not the question. I am giving you an example to show what we can do to defend our country. We cannot bow down before aggression and accept slavery no matter how great the other power is. Then what do we do? We must have the inner strength to be able to withstand any attack, whether we have the weapons or not, and not to bow down to aggression. Ultimately, if necessary, we will fight with sticks. But we will not tolerate aggression. I am telling you what our attitude ought to be. It is not a question so much of weapons but of emotional strength and unity. If we have that no power on earth can overcome us. We must not allow ourselves to indulge in hooliganism and violence. It is absurd to indulge in stone-throwing and other wrongful acts. It is positively dangerous.
As I said, by a strange coincidence, exactly a hundred years ago today on the 10th of May, our war of independence began in Meerut and shook up pactically the whole of north India to its foundation. At no time after that can it be said tht the people of India fully accepted foreign domination. It is true that the British rule went on for a long time after that. But the flame of freedom burnt bright at all times. Then the nation took another turn and, as you know, a great movement began under the banner of the Congress, particularly under Gandhiji’s leadership. A unique movement began which eschewed weapons completely. It is true that when I was in school, fifty years ago, there was a wave of extremism and bombs were thrown on English officers. But India could not shake off the yoke of foreign rule by stray bomb-throwing incidents. That was merely the expression of anger and the frustration of some brave youth. Even then those of us who condemned it admired their courage. Everyone was frustrated and angry for there seemed no way of freeing the country. Gandhiji showed a new path which required great courage and dignity and promised results—the nation followed him wholeheartedly. Ten, twenty and then thirty years went by and ultimately we succeeded by following the path of peace and non-violence. India acquired great fame not merely because we became free but because of the unique manner in which we had done so. It was our own personal experience. As you can imagine, that was before the dawn of the atomic age. That path is even more relevant now in the atomic age with its potential for unimaginable violence. Violence is stupid and the violence which nuclear weapons can inflict makes any other kind of violence completely meaningless. As I said, it would be like combating cannons with bows and arrows. It has become more than ever necessary to follow the path shown by Gandhiji. I am not talking of principles but of realstrength. That is the only way in which we can protect our freedom with dignity and courage.
The 10th of May is a landmark. Three days hence falls Buddha Purnaima, which is yet another landmark. They are reminders of two different ways of life and we will have to choose one in this age of nuclear weapons. An arms race is not the solution. Until the world opinion chooses the other path, the danger of nuclear weapons will continue to hang over our heads like the sword of Damocles. The nuclear weapons powers say that they are only for purposes of deterrence. But in the meantime the fate of the earth hangs in the balance. Since the path of violence is obviously wrong, the only alternative before the world is to take the other path.
Therefore, I appeal to you to think of all those brave warriors who had lit the torch of India’s independence. That torch continued to burn for a century until India became free. Let us pay homage to those brave heroes and the others who came after them and carried the torch. Let us think of Gandhiji and remind ourselves that unless we see reason and defeat violence, it will bring ruin to mankind. Enmity cannot be countered by enmity. The lesson of non-violence has special implications for us who fought for our freedom with that unique weapon. If we forget it and foment disunity and quarrel over petty matters we would be betraying the sacrifices and courage of all the people who fought for freedom, and betraying Gandhiji, Gautam Buddha and, finally, ourselves. Jai Hind.
Let us stand up and observe two minutes’ silence in memory of all those who laid down their lives in 1857 and since then for India’s freedom. n
1. S. N. Sen, Eighteen Fifty-Seven, Publications Division, Delhi, 1957.
2. 1857, a Pictorial Presentation, Publications Division, Delhi, 1957.
3. Aga Khan III (1877-1957); spiritual head of the Ismaili Khoja community. Aga Khan III founded the Aga Khan foundation, an international philanthrophic organisation offering educational and other services.
4. A delegation headed by the Aga Khan was received by the Viceroy Minto in Shimla in October 1906. The delegation asked for guarantees that the rights of Muslims should be protected and that in any case the Muslims should not be relegated to a position of a helpless minority by the assertion of the numerically superior Hindu population.